As a sixth-grader, Leo Koch was assigned a science project: find a way to help the environment, and engage the community in doing so. Helping the environment would be the easy part, Koch figured, just by gathering a few friends for a beach cleanup.
Getting others to join in would be another challenge.
But three years later and a few days after 1000 Jeeps drove to the beaches of Ocean Shores to pick up pounds of trash, Koch succeeded in that endeavor.
It’s partially thanks to an army of small rubber ducks. In the Jeep world, a rubber duck placed by a stranger under a handle or on a windshield is a gift of good tidings.
“It’s just to say, ‘I hope you have a great day, I hope you smile, somebody’s thinking about you,’” said Leo’s mother, Nicole.
The Koch’s used the trend — and the camaraderie between Jeep owners — to their advantage, driving across the Northwest “ducking” cars. They attached handwritten notes to the ducks prompting people to attend the event, called Clean Shores.
The first event had a relatively small turnout. But word grew quickly. Since then it has blossomed into a three-day production complete with a parade through town led by the Ocean Shores fire department and a band and bonfire on the beach.
“The Jeep community is really big. They spread the information around like wildfire,” said Curtis Stanifer on Saturday prior to the parade, when the 700 Jeeps in attendance filled a 20-acre parking lot in the Oyhut Bay Seaside Village. Stanifer drove from Spanaway to attend the event, but is originally from Ocean Shores and wanted to contribute to his hometown.
A wide variety of ducks floated on a sea of Jeeps at Oyhut. Stanifer’s son, Ian, stood on the back of a cherry-red Wrangler, his head enveloped in a yellow duck mask. When Kim Rumion of Port Orchard rolled out of the parking lot toward town, her Jeep towed a seven-foot inflatable duck perched on a trailer and hoisted by a generator and air pump. Young Isaiah Navarro gave out so many rubber ducks he ran out.
“There aren’t enough ducks to go around,” said his father Pete.
“Prior to this event I had never been ducked. I’m really happy. It’s the little things in life,” said Kimber Lawrence from her 1999 stick-shift Wrangler.
She, along with friends Penny Jackowski and Tiffany Rainsberger, declared that attending Clean Shores would become a yearly tradition for the group from Gig Harbor.
Others strapped yellow duck pool floats to their roofs. Pam Grgetich bounced around the lot in a fuzzy full-body duck suit. Pam and her husband, Joe, of Too Cool Sportswear, helped organize the event and printed shirts with a custom logo. As cars paraded from the parking lot Saturday and headed for Chance A La Mer, they handed drivers a diagram of the beach with an assigned cleanup area to ensure the cleanup was equally distributed.
Blue bags dotted the beach as Jeepers gathered garbage, which was then hauled away in a small trailer behind a Jeep driven by Dennis Shulte of Beck’s towing.
The healthy attendance could be partially attributed to the fact that, in the Jeep community, Saturday was national “Go Topless” day — a holiday meant to celebrate warm weather by reducing one’s roof. A few did despite blustery and slightly misty conditions.
For such a conglomeration of cars, miles of flat sand proved a worthy host.
Some Jeeps were souped up, boasting accessories, extremities and decorations. Others were modest. Keeping with Jeep tradition, many had names, some of which were menacing and powerful: Dozer, Tank, Venom; others, elegant: Scarlet, Opal, Kalapana; others an ode to their environment: River Rat, Sandy Beach, Little Foot.
To Ruben and Sandy Roman, the event was about more than the cars. They drove their new Jeep six hours from Post Falls, Idaho to participate in their first festival, with Sandy dressed in a full-body Grinch costume.
“Everybody has been family oriented, treating us like they’ve known us forever,” Roman said.
“Usually when you are in a car club, everybody is for their own, ‘Look at what I got,’ versus in this car club, it’s ‘Look at what we got,’” he said.
Leo said Clean Shores will return next year in a similar fashion. The science project ended after the first year, but about two dozen of Leo’s classmates — members of the Komachin Middle School’s Future Business Leaders of America out of Lacey, who were, admittedly, Jeepless — came out to help pick up trash, and keep the event true to its roots.
“It’s my favorite beach,” Leo said. “We’ve been coming here since I was little, since before I was even born actually. We decided to give back to a community that we’ve been going to forever.”