No one likes a litter bug. As Alternative Spring Break participants traveled to Puerto Rico to volunteer on the trails of El Yunque’s National Rain Forest, they quickly realized why. Spending the majority of their spring break uncovering and collecting garbage, the group acquired a new level of respect for one of the most beautiful-yet-tainted areas of the world.
[puerto1] Cascade of Contentment
Hospitality business sophomore Michael Macal gazes upon a waterfall blanketing the rock walls of Puerto Rico’s rainforest last week. The group of 25 MSU students participating in the Alternative Spring Break program volunteered its services in El Yunque through the Caribbean National Rain Forest reserve where students cleared garbage from trails and performed other maintenance tasks.
The beauty of the rain forest is interrupted by a mess of trash left by unidentified persons. Workers at El Yunque said people come at night to dump all of their trash wherever they please. “It was surprising to see how much people disrespect [the rain forest’s] beauty,” political science and international studies senior Leah Winiesdorffer said. “We picked up so many bottles, clothes and garbage that it seems like people just dumped bags of it over the edge.”
Pick of the Litter
Construction management sophomore Dane Weddon and communications junior Laura Kelch clear trash in an area of El Yunque. The Alternative Spring Break participants found garbage ranging from beer bottles and food to refrigerators and abandoned cars.
Caribbean National Rain Forest volunteer guides Enrique Diaz and Artemio “Junior” Iglesias dig through a pile of garbage in a picnic area of El Yunque. The two men said they search for documents with addresses when they come across trash left behind, so they can identify the culprits and allow the police to fine them.
MSU students fill the bed of a truck with trash found near a river in El Yunque. After finding envelopes and letters addressed to a local church, the workers prepared the documents to be sent to authorities.
Back to His Roots
Iglesias uses a machete to unearth a glass bottle from the riverside. The crusade to clean has been such a challenge for so long that workers are now left to search for embedded items buried in the ground.
A group of Alternative Spring Break participants are scattered alongside a road in El Yunque as they search for garbage. The group trekked throughout the rain forest Monday through Thursday and collected an enormous amount of bags that were loaded into a truck and taken to dumpsters.
A sign translating to “one thousand dollar maximum fine for throwing trash” graces the roadside in El Yunque with its ignored presence. The MSU volunteers cleaning the area couldn’t help but scoff at the irony of the sign as they cleared trash found near and directly beneath it.
Digging for Gold
As they skim down the side of a ravine that leads to a waterfall, political theory and constitutional democracy senior Liz Vogl and marketing junior Jackie Baczynski look to fill their garbage bags. Workers said they have come across a number of unexpected items, including dead bodies.
Step at a Time
With bags in tow, Baczynski, Winiesdorffer and journalism senior Lindsey Shaw balance on stepping stones as they cross a river in the forest. The effort to keep up with the trash left by visitors and locals alike has been a constant battle.
After volunteering, the group gathers at the Catalina Work Station of El Yunque for an award ceremony conducted by the workers of the Caribbean National Rain Forest Reserve. The organization, whose aim has been to preserve the rain forest and educate others, showed a great deal of gratitude to the Alternative Spring Break group for their service.
Road Less Traveled
Walking with pride, human biology sophomore Summer Mariucci leaves her last day of volunteering with the rest of her peers. “I feel very productive after working in the rainforest,” Shaw said. “It wasn’t so bad picking up trash- I feel like I’m making an imprint in the world.”