Saskia Gomez likes to spend weekends at the beach, and National Public Lands Day is no different. However, instead of a swimsuit, she dons gloves and a hard hat and picks up trash for four hours with about 20 of her co-workers.
Since 2001, Gomez, a public relations executive for Toyota de Puerto Rico, has been a site manager for National Public Lands Day and has worked with her group of volunteers to keep the beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico trash free. This year, her group will be at San Cristobal’s Castle near the beach.
"Everyone goes to the beach on the weekends," said Gomez. Puerto Rico has nearly 300 beaches along 272 miles of coastline and permits all types of activities from hiking to surfing. Gomez takes her 2 kids to the beach to relax, but on NPLD she brings them to teach an important lesson, “I show them the large amount of garbage we clean up and explain we need to take care of our island and appreciate the environment," she said. "This helps them understand why it is important to put trash in a garbage can."
The lesson of self-reliance was never more relevant than in 2017. "We had to cancel because of Hurricane Irma," said Gomez. The Category 4 hurricane made landfall on September 6th. Then came Maria, a Category 5 hurricane that devastated the island. After the hurricane, much of the cleanup efforts fell on the local population. "If it weren't for the people in the community helping out," said Gomez, "we wouldn't have been able to drive through the streets." According to Gomez, there is still a significant amount of damaged land. "The urban areas are nearly back to normal, but these events definitely made us care about what we have and want to keep it that way." She believes this may be motivation for even more people to take part in this year's NPLD event.
Gomez's motivation lies in the results. "I like to see how the event starts and ends," she said. "I like to see the truck filled with bags of trash that we cleaned up." The only challenge for volunteers, according to Gomez, can be the timing. "They have to be there at 8 a.m. on a Saturday," she said jokingly. "But once they get there, everyone has a great time!"