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Weather Shouldn’t Stop Cleanup Day

Benjamin Franklin, duck ramps, Army Corps of Engineers, Hurricane Isabel and “the tractor man.”

Google that group of words and you don’t get too many results.

But, massage it into a formula for a national public service day and then throw in 80,000 conservation-minded folks across America and the results look pretty good.

This weekend, organizers for the 10th annual National Public Lands Day are planning to brave the weather to once again show why their event is the pre-eminent volunteer project to benefit places Americans go to enjoy the outdoors, and once again Washington, D.C., will be a premier venue for the effort.

On Saturday, thousands of volunteers will simultaneously be working at 500 projects across all 50 states in an effort to promote this year’s goal of improving and restoring habitats. In D.C., 450-plus volunteers have committed to work at a dozen projects from Haines Point to the Constitution Gardens because, as NPLD public relations chief Gary Kozel said, “These are America’s parks but they are also D.C.’s back yards.”

Coordinators for the event are still planning to push ahead with their program in Washington despite the approach of Hurricane Isabel, although organizers did say project sites may be shifted if flooding occurs and that hurricane damage cleanup may be a new focus of this year’s event. Because of the weather, a sunrise kickoff ceremony Friday morning has been canceled. Also, due to projected high water levels, the Army Corps of Engineers may scrub a plan to place two barges on the Potomac to aid volunteers in cleaning up the river.

As in past years, a number of Congressional Members are lending a hand and getting dirty in order to clean up some of the national capital’s premier public sites.

This past summer Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a longtime supporter of the event who two years ago pitched in at a project along the C&O Canal, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter about the event followed by similar letters from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.).

Also, numerous Congressional staffers plan to pitch in this weekend, including about a dozen members from Sen. Conrad Burns’ (R-Mont.) office, who will head over to Haines Point to clean up and paint railings, benches and trash cans along the Potomac River.

Other major projects around D.C. will include building duck access ramps to the Constitution Gardens ponds, creating bat habitats on the National Mall, mulching and attending to the Tidal Basin and Haines Point cherry trees and landscaping around the D.C. Urban Tree House.

The project at Constitution Gardens, which is scheduled to be the biggest project of the day, will also involve dozens of volunteers working to heal the wounds left by the infamous “tractor man,” who in March broke up some of the gravel around the pond area when he drove his John Deere tractor into the pond, turned “doughnuts” and staged a 47-hour standoff with local police to protest government control of tobacco subsidies, the pending war in Iraq and other issues.

To keep up spirits that may have been tested by this week’s weather, a costumed “Benjamin Franklin” will be floating around the Constitution Garden site lending a hand to volunteers. Look for the guy wearing the 18th-century garb and probably carrying an umbrella.

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