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Local woman collects more than 100 bags of styrofoam from Bowen shore

While many people were taking stock of the damage to their homes and properties from the polar vortex storm, Karen Cowper headed out to clean up the shoreline.
Karen Cowper on the collection of storm debris at Grafton Bay.

When the polar vortex hit Bowen Island last month, Karen Cowper of Barton Rd, a five-foot-three-inch, newly minted grandmother, looked out and thought she saw snow piled up on the beach at Grafton Bay.  In fact it was a huge, undulating mass of floating Styrofoam swept down from a dock (or docks) off to the East that had busted up in the storm.

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning, February 4, she headed down to the beach to tackle cleaning up debris before the tide washed it out, endangering Howe Sound marine life.  More than 12 hours and 55 extra-large garbage bags of flotsam later, she put herself to bed at 11:30 p.m., setting her clock for high tide in the morning to resume the crusade. In all, Cowper singlehandedly filled and carried more than 100 bags of Styrofoam up off the beaches, nooks and crannies of Grafton Bay’s shores.

Karen Cowper is still hauling debris from the shore one month later.
Karen Cowper is still hauling debris from the shore one month later. - Submitted

“I put the word out for help that first, big day,” said Cowper, “But everyone was in crisis, just trying to stay warm, and the tide wouldn’t wait.” In the days following, neighbours like Mark and Leslie Churchland pitched in when they could, and The Bowen Building Centre kindly donated more garbage bags.

More than a month later, there were still sacks to be hauled up the hill to the road. What’s next for Cowper and any helpers?  The disposal of eco-unfriendly waste, in this case more than 140 sacks of Styrofoam, currently resembling a big white whale beached in her driveway.

(Katie Smith Milway, a former journalist for The Montreal Gazette, is a frequent visitor to Bowen Island and spent much of the storm on the phone with her mother, under blankets at Hood Point, which lost power for four days and had roads blocked by fallen trees.)