Spring cleaning for the river

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wading through waters, trekking through bug- and beast-infested woods, braving the elements armed only with trash bags, gloves and pickers, it takes a river to motivate the collective effort of the Riverkeeper Cup Cleanup Challenge.

On March 31, from 8 a.m. until noon, hundreds of volunteers will be picking trash out of the Tar and Pamlico rivers (one river, two names, depending on the location of the river), the creeks branching from them and land draining into them during the annual Pamlico-Tar River Foundation event created to help keep those waters clean.

While PTRF’s home base may be in Washington, the river reaches into the Piedmont area of the state. Over the years, word has spread about the cleanup, and with it the number of cities, counties and people on the ground taking part.

Spanning the length of the Tar and Pamlico rivers from north of Raleigh to east of Washington, the environmentally conscious folks of Granville County, Louisburg, Rocky Mount, Tarboro, Greenville and Washington are gathering their forces to see which area’s volunteers can collect the most trash from the waterway in a four-hour period.

“We work with a lot of different organizations to make this happen,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, the Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper. “It’s been a wonderful collaboration. With our small staff, we can’t pull all this off ourselves.”

Collaborations come in the form of Keep America Beautiful branches in Rocky Mount, Tarboro and Franklin County organizing volunteers and providing supplies for the event; city and county solid-waste departments contributing trash bins and weighing services; and environmentally minded businesses like Franklin County’s Novozymes, a Danish company with an environmental awareness team and a crew of employees volunteering for the cleanup.

“It takes a group effort when you really think about it,” said Deck. “We’ve relied on our (PTRF) volunteers to get the word out.”

This year, Deck will be heading up the effort in Rocky Mount, where the Rocky Mount Fire Department’s Swiftwater Rescue Team will add a safety factor to its cleanup site in addition to doing actual cleanup. Closer to home, teams will be picking the Pamlico clean at Tranter’s Creek, Havens Gardens and the waterfront, Chocowinity Bay and Broad Creek.

Farther east, at Goose Creek State Park, 20 volunteers will be plucking garbage from the waters riding in park-provided kayaks and canoes.

“Certainly, safety first,” said Becky Davenport, office assistant at the park.

Davenport explained that the ranger in charge of the cleanup challenge, Nicole Crider, will be giving safety instructions for those heading out into the water, though there are other volunteer options for anyone concerned about getting their feet wet.

“(Volunteers) will be much appreciated whether they take a hike and pick up trash or go out on the water,” said Davenport.

The winner of the event is judged on weight alone — the team with the most pounds of trash wins. Last year, the honor went to Louisburg; the year before, to Washington. Greenville won the first official event in 2009.

From a river picked clean of trash, dedicated volunteers will later sort the recyclable and nonrecyclable items from tons of waste. No matter which team officially collects the most tonnage during the Riverkeeper Cup Cleanup Challenge next Saturday, everyone along the river wins.

To volunteer for the Riverkeeper Cup Cleanup Challenge, call PTRF at 252-946-7211 or Goose Creek State Park at 252-923-2191.