The Christmas tree outside Mary O’Benar’s home in New Port Richey is decorated with ornaments fished from the Pithlachascotee River.
A 21-foot garland of lures is strung on the branches. Hundreds of bobbers hang like baubles. There’s a red chicken and a toy duck with the Hooters logo on it.
“Every single one is from the water, usually tangled in the greenery,” O’Benar said.
O’Benar, 67, lives on the bank of an offshoot of the river in town with her dogs Spencer and Molly. The tree is Spencer’s, and it's alive. It’s on his turf.
O’Benar has been collecting garbage from the waters of the Cotee for about 10 years. She said she collects these treasures to get stuff that's dangerous to wildlife out of the river.
Many of the treasures on the tree, mixed in with working Christmas lights, comes from around the James E. Grey Preserve.
Spencer, 13, has accompanied O'Benar on her trips on the Cotee on a 14-foot Carolina skiff, which was undergoing repairs recently. It has been called Spencer’s Boat.
Spencer is a "Florida hound", a mixed breed protective herding dog. She said others have told her he's part Catahoula Leopard Dog.
“I guess we’ve grown old on the river,” she said.
O'Benar said it’s hard to keep ahead of the trash. She said she’s found a stolen boat. She’s found broken docks.
She’s not natural to boating, but she finds it relaxing. She’s gone out with neighbors, both adults and kids. Passengers help her bring in refuse.
“People need to recover their line,” she said. “And I know it’s not possible. But they need to try.”