“If it weren’t for our volunteers, things would not be as cleaned up or as nice as they are along the parks,” said Fake. “These people do this without any acknowledgement, but just with this sincere desire to keep their park clean.”
One of Coast Walk Trail’s oldest volunteers is John Abbe, a 91-year-old Casa de Manana Retirement Community resident. With a plastic bag, trash grabber and “clothes I don’t care about ruining” as his equipment, Abbe goes out once a week to pick up the garbage along the trail that hikers leave behind. The avid volunteer also cuts back trail weeds and excess brush in addition to sweeping bench areas.
“I like the term ‘volunteer’ because when people see you picking up trash along a road or trail, they think you’re working off a DUI or something,” said Abbe. “Or they think you’re homeless looking for stuff to recycle. I’m neither one of those. This isn’t for my own satisfaction, but to acknowledge that we need people to be more contentious along the coast. La Jolla Village itself has a real problem with littering.”
Abbe used to work with the American River Parkway foundation when he and his wife, Carol, lived in Sacramento. He says he has always had an affinity for community service and, after moving to La Jolla two years ago, noticed the Coast Walk Trail’s need for some TLC.
“The city does pick up along the areas where there’s access by pick-up truck, but when they get up to the cove here where the trail starts, that’s as far as they go,” said Abbe who has picked up everything from baby shoes to beach towels and even some collapsible chairs. “The Coast Walk Trail itself is not policed by sanitation or pick-up people like it should be.”
According to Fake, the Parks and Beaches personnel collect trash at only three places along the half-mile trail: the parking area on Coast Walk, the trail head on Prospect, and at the trail head by the Cave Shop. While Timothy W. Graham, spokesperson for the City of San Diego, says the trash cans at each location are “checked daily and emptied as needed,” there’s about a quarter stretch of trail where littering has not been maintained, until Abbe came along.
“John looks after that trail like it’s his own yard,” said Bill Robbins, unofficial “Mayor of The Cove” who is also a retiree and trail clean-up volunteer. “He’s part of my merry band of ‘Litter Gitters.’”
In the very beginning, Abbe did an experiment where he put out five white plastic buckets – which he salvaged from the dumpsters in the back on Casa – along the Coast Walk benches as make-shift trash cans. Abbe would come and empty out the buckets every three or four days but recently had to abandon that tactic due to people stealing the buckets.
Abbe plans to put the buckets back out on the trail in the summer when foot traffic is at its highest. Though his hope is for the city to eventually take the reins, Abbe sees the immeasurable value in localized efforts.
“Government doesn’t always have the money to service all community needs, so they rely heavily on volunteers and nonprofits to fill the gaps,” said Abbe. “This is the final career of my whole life and, believe it or not, I get more job satisfaction from this than any regular jobs I’ve had before.”
For those interested in getting involved as volunteers with the Coast Walk Trail, go to friendsofcoastwalk.org.