Chesterton Tribune



Dunes volunteer has picked up more than 100 bags of trash since March

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One Indiana Dunes volunteer has cleared more than 100 bags of trash from local beaches in the past four months since COVID-19 shutdowns began in March.

The Chesterton Tribune reached out to Dale Konecny after staff at a recent Indiana Dunes Tourism board meeting raved about his efforts. NPS Ranger Kelly Caddell confirmed Konecny’s 100-bag total and said he’s logged more than 70 hours on beach cleanup this month alone.

Konecny, retired from working in maintenance and HVAC, has been an Indiana Dunes volunteer for about two and a half years. He credits Caddell for getting him interested in the Dunes Trash Trekkers volunteer program shortly after he moved from Illinois to Michigan City a few years ago.

When he’s not working at the Visitor Center or picking up the beaches, Konecny spends time with his three daughters and grand kids and occasionally likes to fish and watch live music. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel and shows, he’s been spending more time on cleanup. “I like it because its good exercise. It’s not a workout you can get sitting in your living room. It’s very good cardio,” he said. “I walk a lot, and climb the dunes. I do trails once in a while. You have to have something to do.”

Konecny’s average is 20 volunteer hours a week. He goes to different beaches every day, sometimes clearing multiple in one evening or hitting high traffic beaches twice or three times a week. The Portage Lakefront is often the worst for litter, though it has by far the best sunsets, he said. “That’s trashed all the time. That I can do every other day.”

“If I see something that needs to be done, I usually do it. I dug a fence out of a State Park dune the other day. Barbed wire caught my eye, and it turned out to be 24 feet of fence down four feet deep,” Konecny said. It took him two days to dig out the fence. “When I see stuff like that, I usually take care of it. I couldn’t sleep because you think about some kid sliding down the dune and what that would do to him.”

Konecny said sometimes beachgoers hide their trash instead of finding a trash can. Among his finds from the Portage Lakefront and West Beach Sunday were a dozen smashed Busch Light beer cans in one hole and a few buried diapers. He also finds lots of cigarette butts, bottles, juice pouches, and broken or abandoned beach toys. Diapers, he said, are usually the weirdest and worst items.

Caddell made a point to mention that garbage cans at the Park are never locked, they’re just wildlife proof. Visitors have to push on an outside latch to open them. There are also white pipe receptacles dedicated for old fishing line, which poses a hazard to wildlife when littered.

Though Duneland has been seeing an influx of Illinois visitors, Konecny and Caddell agreed littering is a nonstop problem, no matter where people are from. Caddell said based on her 14 seasons at the Park, she thinks the uptick this season is not necessarily from Illinois visitors, but because people are letting loose and going “hog wild” since the COVID-19 shutdowns were lifted.

Visitors are respectful for the most part, Konecny said. When he sees a visitor being unsafe or breaking the rules, he’ll politely intervene. He also spreads the word about the Trash Trekkers program, which allows flexible drop-in volunteering.

Trash Trekkers can pick up a trash bag from the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center anytime its open, and they’ll get a free Park water bottle too. “It’s easy to get a hold of us. You just come by, get yourself a free bag and a free water bottle, and go out and have fun,” Caddell said. “Leave the full bag tied next to one of our trash cans. One of our parks and trails crew will get it.”

Trash Trekkers are not provided with gloves, but Konecny prefers a collapsible pickup tool anyway. He gets his from Wal-Mart for around $10, and they’ll usually replace one if it breaks, he said.

Konecny said he’s “not superman”, but Caddell said she can’t say enough about him, and he’s been one of the Dunes most prolific volunteers. “He’s probably done close to 1,000 hours in the past two and a half years.”

Caddell said it’s the people who take initiative who make a difference, and she can’t say enough about the time and effort Park volunteers in general put in to keep the National Park looking like a National Park. “We’re all family here, and we try to do what we can, but we’re limited in our job, and sometimes we don’t get to go out and do it like we should,” she said.

Caddell said one couldn’t ask for a better family. “The National Park Service cannot run itself. We need volunteers, and they don’t do it for pay. They do it just for the love,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many volunteers we have that have watched me grow up. There’s so many, we can’t name them all.”



Posted 7/31/2020




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