OCEAN CITY – By coming up with a slogan to inform people about the importance of keeping Ocean City’s beaches clean, the Surfrider Foundation inadvertently came up with what has proven to be a lasting brand.
“Please Leave Only Your Footprints” was a campaign started almost five years ago after members of the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation felt compelled to do their part to beautify the town’s most valuable asset: the beach.
“Five years ago, you couldn’t walk from the beach to the Boardwalk without stepping on some sort of debris,” said Terry Steimer, who is commonly known as the ambassador of the campaign according to the OC Surfrider chapter’s website. “So we wanted to start something to initiate the tourists to take their trash with them when they leave the beach.”
Steimer said that the group set up a five-year plan to promote the “footprints” campaign, and though he admits members have strayed from the exact plan, the message of the campaign is hitting the mark in a big way.
“The plan has taken off in leaps and bounds,” said Steimer, “but there is probably nothing in the original plan that we are doing right now, but at least we had a guideline.”
All guidelines aside, the grassroots campaign has spread to both major entryways into Ocean City by way of a billboard viewable from the Route 50 bridge (atop the old Buoy Motel) and a large banner on eastbound lane of Route 90 just before the intersection with Coastal Highway.
In addition, the “footprints” campaign is viewable on the back of the town’s trash trucks, at the top of every beach accessible street from Wicomico to 146th streets, as well as trash cans up and down the beach.
“The idea with the footprints is that over time, we believe if we keep putting those footprints up there, when you see footprints, you will associate them with the ‘please leave only your footprints’ campaign and logo. Nothing will need to be said, because they’ll know what it means, anywhere in Ocean City,” said Steimer.
Although the original plan was slated for a five-year awareness campaign, Steimer said that the message won’t be burning out nor fading away any time soon.
“It has become so big and so well received in Ocean City, that there is no way that we could stop after five years, said Steimer, “this will have to go on forever and the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is committed to continuing the campaign.”
Steimer said that the campaign will now look to extend its impact by attempting to address what he calls the two largest factors in current debris on the beach: cigarette butts and petroleum based plastics.
The group is pursuing avenues to instill a 5-cent deposit for plastics and place cigarette receptacles in front of hotels, restaurants and other businesses along the Boardwalk.
Steimer hoped that the Boardwalk businesses would cooperate and help give back to the area that has helped them be successful.
“We spoke to residents of New York and they have initiated a 5-cent deposit on plastics on their beaches and in doing so, their beaches have become pristine, and that’s the type of beaches we want to have,” said Steimer. “Cigarette butts have become the number one debris on the beach, and we all know what debris is, it’s trash. We’ve got enough of it, and it’s time to get rid of it.”
One notable bullet point from Steimer’s presentation on the need to recycle the non bio-degradable petroleum based plastics was that every piece of plastic that was created in our lifetime, still exists, according to Steimer, and that Americans consumed over 50 billion bottles of water (approximately 167 per person) last year alone, with 38 billion of those not recycled.
Mayor Rick Meehan praised the group’s efforts in creating a brand that has become a vital component in keeping the beach clean.
“Your group has moved forward full steam ahead and it’s a great accomplishment,” said Meehan. “People are starting to recognize that once you see those footprints, you know the message.”
Steimer said that he hopes that the creation of 50 trash cans written in Spanish and placed in the large day-tripper Spanish population that convenes on the beach between the inlet and the pier will be helpful this year, as well as other community based activities like “footprints” scholarships awarded to area high schoolers and working hand in hand with large groups that are coming to Ocean City.
“We are working with Bike Week this year, and I’ve been asked ‘what do bikers have to do with surfers’, and honestly I don’t know,” said Steimer, “but I do know there’s 100,000-150,000 of them coming, and we want to get the message out there to keep our beaches clean, so we’ll figure out something.”