Michael Ledford moved to Okaloosa Island after retiring from his veterinary practice in Stockbridge, Ga., with plans to sit back and relax. He quickly found a new reason to wake up early every morning.
Ledford and Maribeth, his wife of 39 years, made a condo they've owned for 3 years their permanent home in April. The next morning, Ledford woke up at 5 a.m. and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise.
"I got a mug of coffee, went down there and immediately stepped on a beer can. I started looking around and there were beer cans and trash everywhere," Ledford told The Log.
Ever since that day, Ledford has made a morning ritual of picking up the trash on the beach by his condo. On an average day, he picks up between one and three shopping bags full of trash, including broken glass bottles, cans, cigarette butts and even clothing.
He's not alone on the job. Sandman Coastal Services has a contract with Okaloosa County to clean the beaches on the island. Soon after Ledford finishes picking up trash each morning, a Sandman employee comes by, driving a bulldozer and pulling a machine that sifts trash out of the sand. Ledford said citizens can't expect the bulldozer to get all the trash, so he's there to help.
Ledford has picked up more than just trash. One of the most common items he finds on the beach is sunglasses. In his few months of collection walks, he's found dozens of pairs of sunglasses, including expensive designer brands like Ray-Ban.
"Two times, I was walking, holding sunglasses in one hand and my bag in the other, and someone ran down from the condos and said, 'Wait, wait. Let me see if those are my sunglasses,' because they knew they'd lost them. They weren't (theirs)," Ledford said.
Most of the sunglasses line the entire top of a dresser in Ledford's condo. He has given many of the designer pairs to family and friends when they visited him, though.
When Ledford's four grandchildren visit for vacation, he also has a closet full of toys for them that he has found on the beach. From more than a dozen boogie boards and sand shovels, to buckets and footballs, Ledford has found more than enough beach toys to keep his grandkids busy during a day in the sand and sun.
Some people may be upset about spending the mornings of their retirement picking up after other people. Ledford has a different view of it, though.
"I enjoy picking up the trash for some reason. I guess I should have been a trash man all along," Ledford said.