Cleanups: Removing litter
from Middle River
The above photo gallery is of the terrific
2021 Cleanup Teams!
Every year, FOMR sends out teams of volunteers in canoes to pull trash out of the River. Why does this matter? What problems does river litter cause?
Most people can agree that one reason to clean up the litter is aesthetic...we have a beautiful river and it is most pretty when there is no trash in sight! Litter is ugly and implies that people don't care about where they live.
But maybe even more importantly, litter hurts the river and her residents. Turtles and fish ingest small bits of plastic their bodies cannot digest. Fishing line left streamside gets wound around the legs of ducks and geese and can trap them. Small bits of plastic wash downstream eventually to the ocean, where wildlife there are negatively affected.
Then there are effects you cannot even see. For example, tires that sit in the river for decades slowly fall apart and release chemicals into the water. The chemicals pollute the water.
Middle River gets trash in and along it banks primarily from two sources: 1) stormwater runoff and floods which pick up loose items and pull them to the river 2) intentional or careless human dumping. The River has a lot of what is known as “legacy trash” which is trash that has accumulated over many decades.
And every year, we chip away at the amount of trash in the riverbed. New trash gets deposited, but the net amount of legacy trash appears to be decreasing over time. The types of flood-related trash we find are things like farm gates, lawn chairs, and construction materials. The type of dumped or careless trash we collect are things like tires and abandoned fishing tackle. Because Middle River doesn’t run through any towns or cities (except Verona) it does not accumulate as much small litter trash as would, say, South River in Waynesboro. The trash we pull out tends to be larger items.
FOMR’s cleanup week is usually in early September when the water is low (so you can see the trash) and the temperatures are still warm. Volunteers clean up by walking in the River pulling a canoe behind them which acts as a barge for the trash collected. A team consists of between 2 to 10 persons per team who clean a mile or two of the River. Other volunteers sometimes act as land crews and help unload, sort and inventory the trash. Then the trash is transferred to a dumpster. In recent years Virginia Eagle Distributing Co. has allowed us to park the dumpster on their lot for a week while we work. The dumpster service has been partially donated by Green Earth, LLC. And the County of Augusta landfill allows us to unload our dumpster at a discount. So, the FOMR cleanup is a true community/partner endeavor.
What is StreamSweepers?
StreamSweepers is a statewide river restoration, training and work experience program run by The Center for Natural Capital (TCFNC) for college-aged young adults and veterans.
FOMR has partnered with the program to map trash locations and assess river conditions in 2018 and 2020 on portions of the Middle River for TCFNC’s use in removing trash too large for FOMR to remove and for identifying potential areas for river restoration." Read more HERE.
2021 Litter pickup along Lewis Creek by FOMR and the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA's Youth Volunteer Corp.
A Sampling of FOMR Cleanups:
The very first cleanup of Middle River that we know of dates back to 1999, almost 10 years before Friends of the Middle River existed. You can read about that premier cleanup which was initiated and organized by one of our members, Reb Stewart, HERE.
Since 2010, our cleanups have grown to include more and more volunteers. After FOMR formed in 2010, a section of Middle River along Bald Rock Road was cleaned by students from Ft. Defiance High School and other volunteers from FOMR. Teacher Brent Hull wrote: “The kids found some very interesting stuff – computers, a flat-screen TV, and a rather large wooden boat. The consensus of everyone was that the most surprising thing we found in the River was an upside-down car! Apparently, it has been there for quite some time because trees are growing out of it. Altogether about 25 bags of trash were deposited into the dumpster, and the boat was taken to the landfill. I went down to the Sheriff’s office to report the car. Even though I told them it had been there for a long time, they dispatched a fire and rescue vehicle, which apparently is county procedure. I am not sure if anyone will do anything to remove this car.” The short answer is—a decade later-- the car is still in there!
A notable partnership occurred in 2013. FOMR volunteers partnered with 19 students and faculty from Mary Baldwin College and cleaned two long sections of Lewis Creek within the city limits of Staunton, VA. This cleanup was part of a course at Mary Baldwin called “Sculpture - Intercepting the Waste Stream” taught by Aurora Robson, an internationally known multi-media artist known predominantly for her transformative work intercepting the waste stream using plastic debris, excess packaging, and junk mail. The students in her cleanup used some of the debris they found in Lewis Creek and made sculptures that were later exhibited at the Staunton-Augusta Art Center.
In 2014 FOMR was assisted by Virginia Eagle Distributing Co., Valley Conservation Council, Ft. Defiance High School, several Crossfit Studios, and Mary Baldwin College to clean approximately six miles of Middle River, two-and-a-half miles of Lewis Creek, and all of Asylum Creek. Approximately 70 volunteers participated.
In our 2015 cleanup 60+ volunteers from Virginia Eagle Distributing Co., Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Mary Baldwin College, James Madison University, Headwaters Master Naturalists, and FOMR cleaned over 8 miles of Middle River and Lewis Creek. A total of 214 tires were pulled out of the River. Many had to be winched up the riverbank by a Department of Wildlife Resources truck!
Dave and David clean up near Limestone Road Bridge, 2019.