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Lab assistant collects trash to save rain forest

Among the Preakness trash are mountains of beer cans   

May 4, 1999
Web posted at: 11:30 AM EDT

John Hopkins lab technician Tim Hoen earns a lot of money each year picking up trash after the Preakness Stakes horse races in Baltimore, Md., but he doesn't keep any of it. Instead, he spends the money to save tracts of rain forest in Costa Rica.

By midday on May 16, Hoen and his Ph.D. trash collectors, all volunteers, will have earned enough money cleaning the infield to buy a nesting beach for a few leatherback sea turtles or a small reserve for red-eyed tree frogs. Since 1993, the program has raised money to purchase more than 2,500 acres of rain forest.

"We call it 'trash for cash,'" said Hoen, who assists in the Biophysics Department and serves as president of an organization that sponsors the annual Preakness Cleanup. "In one day, our volunteers can raise as much as $4,000, which will buy another 80 acres of rainforest. For a half day's work, we can do something really positive."

Hoen works with the national Adopt-An-Acre Program that is supported in part by the Nature Conservancy.

This year -- their ninth -- Hoen and a hundred other trash collectors, will work for half a day cleaning up trash from the races that attract 90,000 people to the Pimlico Race Course.

"We usually have people from Hopkins and another contingent from the National Aquarium, but we'll take anyone who's willing to break a sweat and pick garbage," says Hoen, who manages to corral a dozen of Johns Hopkins research scientists, post doctoral and graduate students from the labs for a hard half day steeped in what can be a most revolting accumulation of garbage. "In the past, we've even had a group of people on probation who do this to knock out a few hours of mandatory community service."

Hoen was first inspired by a San Francisco zookeeper named Norm Gershenz who turned that city's discarded parking meters into an ecological gold mine that has raised more than $1 million for rain forest protection. Relying on the generosity of passing tourists who pop quarters into Gershenz's "conservation meters" at zoos and museums around the country, the San Francisco environmentalist has teamed with The Nature Conservancy to purchase land that will protect endangered tropical habitats from Costa Rica to Indonesia.

Volunteers at this year's Preakness Cleanup will get T-shirts, a picnic lunch and prizes donated by local businesses, including a two-night stay at a Baltimore hotel, movie passes and tickets to the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show in September.

For more information, contact Holli Friedland, (410)602-0828.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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The Nature Conservancy
Johns Hopkins University
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