"Oh, ick." Annie Manrodt held the large resealable plastic bag filled with some unidentifiable rotting substance at arms length away from her. "Pretty disgusting work," she muttered as she quickly dropped the litter into a 4-foot-tall trash bag.
It was that kind of day for Annie Manrodt and the 100 other volunteers who combed Herring Run Park in search of trash yesterday during the city's 11th annual Shape Up Parks program.
More than 1,200 volunteers signed up this year to clean Baltimore's seven major parks and at least 37 smaller parks and neighborhood playgrounds. The cleanup, sponsored by the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks, attracts participants from neighborhood groups, civic and service organizations, and individuals.
Steve McCullen, assistant to the parks director and coordinator of this year's cleanup effort, said budget reductions in the parks department and other agencies in recent years have spread personnel thin.
"We still clean up the major parks daily, but we just don't have the staff to get everywhere, especially in the streambeds," he said. "We mainly hit just the high traffic areas."
Tight money, Mr. McCullen said, has made this volunteer effort all the more important.
Annie Manrodt wasn't feeling particularly important as she swept her hand through a pile of decaying leaves to pick out a mud-encrusted candy wrapper. "I don't know why people leave stuff like this around."
Asked why she was doing this dirty work, she titled her head slightly upward and thought for a minute. As she did, her blond hair fell out from the hood of her blue winter jacket.
"So the ducks will have a nicer place to swim and nicer place to eat," she finally said.
While Annie worked along the stream bank, Roy Sleeman took his rubber hip boots and ventured into the stream.
"Water's a little cold," he said as he pulled the rusted, twisted remains of a 10-speed bicycle out of the stream bottom. Mr. Sleeman, a resident of the Arcadia community and a state property assessor, said he has been a volunteer in the cleanup program for the past four years. Today he brought along his 12-year-old daughter, Donna.
Throughout the thick trees and thickets that line the stream were pieces of plastic, paper trash and other debris. Even 100 volunteers wouldn't come close to picking Herring Run Park and the stream clean on this day.
Parks officials estimated that city trucks would haul away more than 104 loads of trash citywide from the cleanup project.
Mr. Sleeman said he doesn't let himself get frustrated with the seemingly overwhelming task of trying to keep the park and stream clean.
Before he finished his day walking through the water of Herring Run, Mr. Sleeman would pull out, in addition to the bicycle, two grocery shopping carts, several hubcaps, a tire, a children's plastic swimming pool and other miscellaneous debris.
Down the stream a bit from where Mr. Sleeman and his daughter hauled their debris up the bank, Annie Manrodt's pace was beginning to slow. Too many interesting distractions were getting in the way, like skipping stones across the water, chasing a friendly dog and watching the front-end loader scoop up piles of large debris.
Work like this can be tiring after awhile for a 5-year-old.
"She's been a real help, though," said Kate Manrodt, Annie's mother. Mrs. Manrodt said she brought Annie and 3-year-old Peter out for the cleanup project, "because I run in the park a lot and I felt I should give something back to the park by helping to keep it looking at least halfway decent."