By Mimi Wood, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
Jon Gundersen calls him “The Unofficial Mayor.” Diane and Bill Brunley say he’s an inspiration. Chad Walldorf states, “He’s well on his way to becoming a Sullivan’s Island legend for his daily good deeds and cheery disposition.”
Jeff Parrish is hard to miss; combing the beach rain or shine, blue tote bag in hand, flanked by Elvis, a Redbone Coonhound, as lanky and affable as his owner.
Now a mission, Parrish’s daily scouring of the Sullivan’s Island beach didn’t start out that way. “Elvis and I would walk the beach, for lack of anything better to do,” he says. “The amount of trash I saw really got to me.” On New Year’s Day, 2017 he began picking up trash in earnest, and has been at it just about every day ever since, estimating conservatively that he’s collected over 9,000 pounds of trash. Tons of trash, literally; 4.5 to be exact.
Despite the fact that Sullivan’s Island has recently banned all plastics on the beach, Parrish estimates that he still collects roughly 10 pounds of trash each day.
“I usually start around 8 a.m., at Station 28,” walking approximately 8 miles every day. Somewhat dependent on the tide, Parrish typically walks along the wrack line towards Ft. Moultrie, and returns along the low tide line. He estimates he picks up between 500 and 1000 pieces of trash each trip; bending over as many times, despite a troublesome back, noting “L4 and L5 are gone.”
He’s inspired by others, like the mom he met one morning, making a game out of picking up trash with her two young children. And he inspires others. Longtime Sullivan’s Islanders Diane and Bill Brunley credit Parrish with their now-daily trash-picking-up routine. “Jeff is a die-hard. We turned our frequent walks into daily occurrences mainly because of him,” with an ‘assist’ from their dog, Charlie.
“He’s a good role model,” states Gundersen, attending most mornings, along with his dog, Maya.
Parrish doesn’t limit his “pick ups” to just trash, either.
He spied his partner, Jody Young, during the course of his daily routine. He’d had his eye on her for a while, and then “she disappeared. She was like the little red-headed girl from Charlie Brown…no one ever saw her.” Not wanting to risk losing his chance again, they started dating the day she returned to the beach.
“Cigarette butts, plastic tips from cigars, and citrus are right up there as the number one offenders,” states Parrish, along with detritus from unaware or negligent pet owners (and parents, read: diapers), axle grease and “oil turds” from the big ships, plastic bottlecaps, tackle and empty plastic bait containers. His current pet peeve is microplastics.
Some trash, however, is impossible to pick up. Parrish tells of an encounter with a woman sitting on her chair in the surf, smoking a cigarette. Approaching her amicably, he offered her a used water bottle, asking, “If I leave this with you, would you use it as an ashtray, and take it with you when you leave?”
Her stare was equal parts defiance and detestation; “a look you’d give your ex,” he recalls. Venomously, “She never took her eyes off me, as she slowly inhaled one last drag, then deliberately flicked that butt into the ocean. ‘Wow’, I said. ‘Just Wow.’”
Want to see what he’s picked up today? Follow Parrish on Instagram at Elvis_Saves_Sullivans. Better yet, meet him on the beach, and start bending over!