Tampa: “We clean up good”

Among the hundreds of thousands of locals who were eyeing the weather forecasts in the Gasparilla countdown was Marsha Carter. Only she wasn’t all that preoccupied about the pre-parade or even the parade, per se. She wanted to know what it would be like later in the day – post-parade.

Carter is one of the city’s parks and recreation superintendents with managerial responsibilities for maintenance, which once a year includes the Bayshore Boulevard clean-up. Weather is a variable that can truly trash her Gasparilla experience.

“It’s OK to rain before – or even during — but not after the parade,” says Carter. “And that happens more times than we care to mention. When it rains, it makes everything stick to the ground, and that slows everything and everybody down. And we can’t exactly wait for it to stop. That’s not an option when we’ve got to get these major arteries open. So we keep on going — no matter how bad it gets.”

Wind is no less critical a factor for the 65 overtime employees – on loan from playground centers and parks’ maintenance staff — when you’re talking upwards of 50 tons of trash.

“We try to get everything that blows,” Carter says. “But if it comes up, we’re dead in the water. Then you have it in the bay and on private property.”

The key non-meteorological variable is bottles.

“That’s the worst for safety,” stresses Carter. “For employees and equipment. It can puncture a tire. If a sweeper hits a bottle the wrong way, the sweeper goes down.”

Carter, a Tampa native, speaks from the perspective of 19 parade clean-ups. Weather permitting – and no doubling up with a local Super Bowl – the drill tends to improve with practice, she says.

“The equipment is certainly a factor,” she explains. “We now use tractor blowers to blow the trash from under the bleachers out into the street. We have learned to rake and pile and bring in loaders and skid steers (bobcats). We put it in garbage trucks and high sides (dump trucks). I think we get a little better at it each year.”

Carter acknowledges that for most folks Gasparilla is remembered for its floats, krewes, beads, flashers, drunks and $20-some million in economic impact – not the well-honed efforts of Team Debris.

“From those we talk to, it seems that people have come to expect it,” says Carter, who does a lot of monitoring as well as her share of trash toting and tossing. “That means we’ve done our job. Our staff is trained and motivated – although that’s not to say they enjoy it. When you look up and see miles and miles of garbage, the fun is gone. But we are a public service department, and we know what to do and how to do it. There’s a lot of responsibility resting on our shoulders.

“When people look at Bayshore on Sunday morning,” underscores Carter, “we want them to wonder if there really was a parade the day before. That’s what we want them to say.”

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