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Jan Klippert, coastal cleanup organizer dies

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on Jan. 23, 2008 at 3:05 pm with No Comments »
January 23, 2008 3:05 pm

Jan Klippert, founder of the Olympic Coast Clean-up, died of cancer on Tuesday, his 73rd birthday.


Olympic Beach Cleanup organizer Jan Klippert, center, welcomes U of W student Fallon Schumsky to Griffith State Park near Ocean City as maggie Cho looks on during the 2004 cleanup. Klippert died on Tuesday.

I knew Klippert had been in failing health, but we had a great chat when we spoke last week about the creation of the Washington Clean Coast Alliance.

He admitted to have a sense of relief knowing someone would be taking over organization of the cleanup.

Jan began the cleanup in 2000, after he hiked the Olympic coastline. Since then 3,856 volunteers have removed an estimated 187 tons of debris, an average of 97 pounds per volunteer.

I remember interviewing Klippert for a story before the 2004 effort, and then meeting him on the beach the day of the cleanup. We sat on a huge log, soaking in the sunshine, talking about volunteerism and his drive to protect the coast.

A year later, Jan asked me to send him photos when I told him about our two children digging a tire out of the sand. Each year since then, the kids have asked to go and clean the beach. He said those are the kinds of stories that kept him going.

Our state is better because of Jan Klippert. I know he will be missed.

Here is a story I wrote about the 2004 cleanup:

By Jeffrey P. Mayor

The News Tribune

LA PUSH – Inspiration for the fifth Olympic Coast Cleanup was as varied as the volunteers who helped clear tons of trash and debris from beaches on the state’s northwest flank.

“This is a great day,” said organizer Jan Klippert as he stood on the beach at Ocean City under sunny skies on Saturday.

His comment was about more than the weather. He was talking as much about the volunteers who gave their time and energy to protect what he calls some of the state’s most unique resources.

Last weekend’s cleanup – involving more than 500 people – extended 120 miles, from the broad, flat beaches of Ocean Shores to the haystack-studded beaches north of this coastal town to Hobuck Beach on the Makah Indian Reservation.

“An old growth forest, if you cut it, it’s gone. The ocean and beaches aren’t like that, but we have to take care of them,” Klippert said. “If we all take care of it, it will last.”

The idea for the cleanup came to Klippert as he spent 10 days hiking from Point of Arches to Cape Johnson.

“We had a beautiful time, but there was all this crap on the shore,” he said.

Klippert said he and his group came across nets, floats, rubber tires, ropes, boxes, crab pots and lots of plastic.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if all this stuff wasn’t here?'”

When he returned home, he was inspired by the writings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and local hiking guru Ira Spring.

“It a grand part of the country to me, and it’s worth taking care of,” Klippert said.

After he retired in 1999, Klippert approached officials at OIympic National Park. With their blessing and vows to help, Klippert organized the first coastal cleanup in 2000. About 350 people took park, collecting about 12 tons of debris.

More than 50 tons of material have been taken from the ocean beaches.

Sylvia Russell of Sumner planned to take part in her fourth cleanup. She and her husband, Brian Wester, usually hike into a remote beach one day, clean up the next, and then hike out on the third day. This year, they planned to go to the Sand Point or Cape Alava area.

“We’re hikers, and we’re both working full time, so cleaning up one weekend on the beach is a very small price to pay for the enjoyment we get,” she said.

What strikes Russell as remarkable is the coordination of efforts to remove the trash. The cleanup involves primary partners Olympic National Park, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, U.S. Coast Guard, the city of Port Angeles, Grays Harbor county, the Makah Tribe, the Quileute Tribe and the state Parks and Recreation Commission.

“People can go into these remote beaches, collect the trash, put it in a cache, and then the park people arrange to get it off,” Russell said.

Standing on the beach at Ocean City, Klippert pointed to a flock of shorebirds skimming the water and swooping over dozens of people digging for razor clams.

“One hundred years from now, people should be able to come to the beach and see the same things,” Klippert said.

“If people use the mountains and the trails, they will become advocates for them. That’s Spring’s philosophy. This builds a constituency to care for the beaches.”

Ocean City

One of those constituents was Dale Snodgrass of Seattle. Saturday was the first time his schedule allowed him to participate. Walking along a couple hundred yards of beach, near the edge of the grass-covered, low dunes, Snodgrass and two others filled three bags with trash.

Those bags were among the 1,000 bags Mary Majetich expected to hand out from the registration tent in front of the Sunrise Market. The state parks employee also had more than 200 doughnuts and pastries to hand out to hungry volunteers.

Also at the tent was Patty Cox of the Washington Coast Chamber of Commerce. She was directing people wanting to help to different locations. This was the first time beaches outside Olympic National Park have been included in the cleanup.

“We appreciate this. We’re small communities,” Cox said of Ocean City, Copalis, Pacific Beach and Moclips, towns represented by the chamber.

“There’s not enough of us to do something like this. The effect will be amazing,” she said.

Griffith-Priday State Park

Heidi Thomas, a senior majoring in criminal justice at the University of Washington, just might have made the find of the day. Walking along the back shore area, at the edge of the low dunes, the Tacoma resident found a $50 bill.

“It was in plain view. I thought it was a fake. I was going to put it in my bag,” Thomas said.

Among 50 Oceanography 102 students, Thomas found other rewards on the beach.

“The things we learned in class, you get to actually see,” she said. “It makes us more knowledgeable about our ocean.”

Adam Deleo, a freshman from Gig Harbor, was busy rolling an old tire out of the grass. For part of the last three years, Deleo has worked aboard a tender for the salmon boats in southeast Alaska.

“I like the ocean, so I preferred to come out and pick up some trash,” he said.

There was plenty to clean. In one 4-foot-square swath of beach there was an empty bottle of water, an empty 750-ml vodka bottle, a broken plastic lid from a coffee cup, a plastic oil bottle, a plastic bottle cap and bits and pieces of unidentifiable plastic.

Richard Strickland, the professor, said the cleanup was one of several options to earn extra credit. Other students were taking part in habitat restoration projects around Puget Sound.

“We try to make it relevant for them,” he said of the project. “You don’t get to see the ocean in the classroom. You just see the blackboard ocean.

“The main thing is to have real contact with the ocean, learn something about the ocean and the human impact on the ocean,” Strickland said.

Roosevelt Beach

At the foot of a bluff on this stretch just south of Pacific Beach, a quartet of teenagers picked through the grass, plastic bags in hand.

Leah Kirkland, Nikki Odenbrett, Betsi Sowers and Nathan Wagner were among 22 youth members of Calvary Chapel in Olympia taking part in the cleanup.

They were also 25 hours into World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine, a worldwide movement to fight hunger. Each year, youths at the church take part in the fast and participate in a community service project.

“You’re really hungry at first, but it feels good to be doing something like this,” Sowers said.

The fast had begun at 10 a.m. Friday and wouldn’t end until 4 p.m.

“It feels good to give back to the community, picking up all this stuff,” Kirkland added.

“Here in America, we have so much compared to people in other countries,” Sowers said.

“They don’t have the ability to come to a beach like this,” Odenbrett said, finishing her friend’s thought.

Ruby Beach

By early afternoon, the volunteers were done, the proof of their efforts heaped in a pile at the trailhead parking lot. There were about 30 bags, a large fish float, a rusted propane gas tank, a tire, a small plastic float and a large, battered piece of Styrofoam.

A large branch had been used to tote 11 of the bags from the beach to the parking lot.

Among the bags was an opened plastic bag of Ajinomoto monosodium glutamate, used in the preparation of processed foods.

Second Beach

Ian Miller spent much of the day hiking in to and out of the beaches around La Push. He is the statewide field coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, one of the supporting partners of the cleanup. Twenty-five members were among the 70 people who helped clean First, Second, Third and Rialto beaches.

By late afternoon, he was headed down the 3-quarter-mile trail to this beach south of town.

“I was amazed at how willing people were to come up here and clean up the beaches,” Miller said.

Among those was a group from Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church in Des Moines, led by Diane Schairer. Last year, she and two others from the church worked on Second Beach. This year, 12 people signed up to participate.

“I hike monthly, and being in the wilderness is really important to me. I want to do something to give back,” Schairer said before the cleanup.

“They did a really great job,” Miller said of Schairer’s group.

Tucked among the driftwood on the beach was a pile of 13 tires, some from cars, some from trucks. Drag marks in the sand were evidence they had been collected by volunteers.

Miller has participated in every cleanup, but this was the first time in a supervisory capacity. This also was the first year the Surfriders Foundation was a partner in the project.

“I really believe in this idea. It has a double benefit of cleaning the beach, especially the plastic. At the same time, it’s an excellent public involvement project.”

The 37,000 members in 60 U.S. chapters of Surfriders are dedicated to protecting the oceans, waves and beaches. Miller said he hopes to get more members involved in coming years.

When asked if he sees himself as the next generation’s Jan Klippert, Miller smiled.

“Jan is an inspiration for sure. If I can be as much of an inspiration as he is to others in the cleanup, I’d by very happy.”

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