By BRADEN LAMMERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
From the formation of the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, Pa. to Cairo, Ill., people took to its banks Saturday to help clean up the waterway.
The Ohio River sweep marks the end of stormwater awareness week in both Clark and Floyd Counties and is a volunteer event designed to clean the banks of the river through six states. A program organized by Cincinnati-based ORSCANO gets people from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois to clean about 3,00 miles of shoreline, said Carol Huff, with Clarksville Storm Water and the Clark County Ohio River sweep coordinator.
She said civic organizations, church groups, scout troops, families and individuals all took to the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville to participate in the event.
More than 100 volunteers had checked in early Saturday morning just at the Falls of the Ohio, and combined with the other locations operating throughout the county — Ashland Park, Lapping Park and Charlestown State Park — more than 200 volunteers were expected.
“This is a source of clean water for our area and if we don’t keep that clean, it costs more money, the problems we’ll have with pollution,” Huff said. “Anything that’s left on the ground goes through the stormwater drainage system ... and winds up in our rivers and in our streams. We want to keep that clean for the environmental purpose and for the aquatic life, as well.”
Deb Ashack, Jeffersonville stormwater coordinator who was helping in the clean up at the Falls of the Ohio, said the river sweep is a great event to get people out to see how much trash is in the river.
“It’s to raise awareness about the river ... and how much stuff that is not thrown in the river ends up in the river,” she said. “If it’s on the ground, it’s in the water.”
Jenny Dieterlen, project engineer with HDR Inc. in Louisville, who has helped Huff for the past few years, added the educational component is an important takeaway for those participating in the river sweep.
“I think it’s a great family experience,” she said. “I think it’s a great learning experience for younger generations. We want this to be an important thing in the future. All they know is water comes out of the sink ... we try to make this educational, too.”
A large portion of the volunteers who worked along the banks, at least at the Falls of the Ohio, were scout groups, Huff said.
A contingent of seven girls from Jeffersonville Girl Scout Troop 508 and a boy scout were among those picking up trash in the park.
Samantha Kime said she brought the group down along with Jeanne Stafford after participating in the cleanup last year.
“Whenever we go camping it’s always leave things better than you found it, so this is another way of showing them that,” Kime said. “This is a great park that we have and they love to come down.”
She added that they try and instill in the troop the importance of giving back to the community and trying to make things better.
In Floyd County, Tabitha Elble and her husband Travis help organize the river sweep.
It started after they organized a cleanup of Silver Creek about 15 years ago. The following year they were asked to coordinate the river sweep in Floyd County and have been there since.
“The premise is to clean the whole river in one day,” Tabitha Elble said. “We’ve always been environmentally conscious. It’s something we can teach our kids. I think it does make folks who do come down here more conscientious of not throwing their garbage out [improperly]. You come down here, you clean up after somebody else [and] it’s going to make you think twice before you toss that water bottle or toss that McDonald’s cup out your window.”
Angel Jackson with the Floyd County Soil and Water Conservation office said she has seen the number of people volunteering each year increase.
She attributed the increased effort to awareness.
“Anything that we can be a part of or help educate the public to raise awareness about clean water, we’re all for it,” Jackson said.
Between 50 to 60 volunteers had checked in Saturday before noon, with more expected throughout the day.
One group of that brought more than 20 volunteers to the river sweep was from Heartland Nazarene Church in Floyd’s Knobs.
Jim Lockman, a trustee with the church, said the group is participating for its second year because volunteering helps give the church a break on its watershed bill for New Albany.
“But we also don’t mind helping out the community — it’s two-fold for us,” Lockman added.
About six of the church’s volunteers were picking up trash under the Interstate 64 Sherman Minton Bridge, which they said was just blanketed with paper.
“Every year we get more volunteers and every year the amount of trash is less,” Elble said.
She attributed to the diminished amount of trash has been aided by the buildup of the riverfront and more people visiting the banks of the Ohio River in New Albany.
“If you come down here and play, you don’t want to look at garbage laying everywhere,” she said.
She said throughout the years some strange and unusual things have been pulled out of the river.
That was certainly the case at the Falls of the Ohio, where the Jeffersonville girl scouts said they had found a door and a tire still on its rim.
But the oddest find of the day sent a group of six trekking back toward the Ohio River after someone shouted, “They found a hot tub.”