Sunday, October 6, 2019

Neighbors Collect Trash from the Indian River

By Guest Contributor and Member Gary Ball

On a recent bright September Saturday morning, I joined a dedicated group of neighbors in a four-hour effort to reduce the trash littering the banks and water of our beloved Indian River. The volunteers, most of them members of our local neighborhood-advocacy group known as Friends of Indian River, included six canoers, a kayaker, and my friend Glenn and me in Glenn's 21-foot Carolina skiff.This was our second-annual effort to use boats to get at debris on the shoreline and in the water, so we knew we faced a daunting task.

A branch of the majestic Elizabeth River, Indian River winds through several old neighborhoods in Chesapeake. If you've ever driven down Indian River Road between Military Highway and Campostella Road, you've passed over it.

Old-timers say the river once had a white sandy bottom and clear water, but its bottom is now covered in many places with deep mud, and the water is dark and murky. Apparently, the mud and murk result from decades of runoff from small farms, suburban yards, and construction sites, seasoned by goose and pet droppings, and, of course, litter.

Nevertheless, when the sun sets over its dappled surface on an autumn evening or a full moon paints a silver lane across it, all of us who live near the river count ourselves lucky. Egrets, blue herons, eagles, and ospreys love the river, too, and otters have made an occasional appearance recently.

But the Indian River needs our help. That's why we were out on this sultry Saturday morning, trying to reduce its burden of trash.

As some of our canoeists paddled upriver toward Plymouth Park, a place we had de-littered several times in the past, Glenn nosed the skiff gently into the edge of a four-acre marsh that dominates the center of the river about a quarter mile south of the Indian River Bridge. Using metal grabbers, a crab net, and our gloved hands, he and I began quickly filling two big trash cans he had brought aboard.

Plastic bottles, white Tiparillo tips, plastic bags that stuck to the bottom suffocating all life under them, and maybe worst of all, Styrofoam—plates, cups, carry-out containers, and limitless numbes of hard-to-grab fragments--predominated in this hiearchy of debris.We also found a large exercise ball, pens, including a green Sharpie (that still worked!), numerous liquor bottles, a wheel barrow tire, and, oddly, an EZ Pass.

I thought littering went out of fashion in the Sixties, but apparently a lot of folks, through ignorance or arrogance, still feel fine tossing their garbage anywhere but in a trash can. Maybe they don't realize that litter on the street, especially plastic and Styrofoam, eventually washes into the river during rainstorms. We were witnessing this reality in a very personal way as the marsh and shoreline yielded up hundreds of pounds of wet, muddy garbage.

Glenn and I worked over only about forty yards of the marsh shore but filled both our large trash cans. The area we covered represented only about fiften percent of the marsh, I estimated, so we left much untouched, even with help form other volunteers. Some trash was out of our reach, and we considered  wading into the marsh, but when Glenn tested the bottom with his boat hook and it sank six feet deep in the mud, we decided we should stay in the boat.

After about three and half hours, we rendezvoused  with the other waterborne trash collectors beside the Indian River Bridge. Glenn and I took their trash bags into our boat and everybody headed home for much-needed showers and lunch. The total haul filled four city-issued  trash cans.

Did our morning's work really make a difference? Hard to say, but at least we kept hundreds of pieces of plastic from washing into the bay and on into the ocean. We've also made the river a little more hospitable to the creatures who have to live in it. And maybe next year we'll have more help and be able to do more. Of course, the biggest help would be for everybody to keep trash off the streets and out of the water. It doesn't belong in our beloved, but struggling, Indian River.

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