Over 100 volunteers from throughout the state cleaned up 7,980 pounds of garbage and debris during an event sponsored by the National Committee on the New River.
The Big Sweep River Clean Up on Saturday, Sept. 14 brought in volunteers from Gardner-Webb and Appalachian State universities, Watauga County schools and others to clean up along the South Fork of the New River in Ashe County.
“We rallied around where the outfitters are along the South Fork,” said Courtney Wait, advocacy coordinator for the National Committee for the New River. “They are among the folks that make this event successful.”
The event was done in coordination with the North Carolina Big Sweep, which is sponsored by EarthShare North Carolina.
Wait said the volunteer effort was able to clean 25 river miles along Ashe County. Among the trash included approximately 150 tires, a portable toilet from a RV camp and three N.C. Department of Transportation signs.
“We picked up a lot of cans, which was a really big thing for us,” she said. “There were a lot of metal cans. Mostly drink cans between soda and beer, that was a really big item that we kept finding. We also found quite a bit of plastic.”
NCNR hosts this event annually, on the second Saturday in September. Wait has been in charge of the event the last seven years.
Although close to 8,000 pounds of trash was cleaned up, it was significantly less than what the cleanup has brought in previous years. While that is good news for Ashe County, downstream might be facing problems.
“This is less trash than found in years past,” Wait said. “We think flooding washed a lot of stuff into the river, and we think a lot of it is possibly in Virginia and West Virginia when we do those cleanups.”
The student volunteers were not the only helpers. Different outfitters along the New River, as well as staffers from the New River State Park helped out.
Wait said the people from New River State Park took the trash from their park to the landfill for the volunteers.
“We are lucky that the South Fork has the tourism and number of outfitters that it does,” she said.
Wait said she believes that the trash entering the river is mostly unintentional and that flooding played a large role in the amount of garbage. Still, people need to take basic precautions when it comes to preventing garbage from entering the river.
“Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen to your trash, even in your house, yard or car,” she said. “People need to be very vigilant about putting the trash in the trashcan and making sure it makes its way to the convenience centers.”