Stream Sweepers Tackle River Trash

Jun 20, 2016

Virginia has nearly 50,000 miles of rivers and streams – many of them polluted and littered with trash, but a small group of so-called Stream Sweepers will spend their summer trying to clean up the mess.

A dozen Stream Sweepers hope to clean about 120 miles of Virginia rivers this summer.

The idea for Stream Sweepers came from Michael Collins, executive director of the Center for Natural Capital – a guy who believes it’s possible to make money while cleaning up the environment.

“I was fishing the Robinson River a few years ago," Collines recalls. "All of a sudden I noticed that on the banks there was a bunch of garbage – things like old washing machines and propane tanks.”

With funding from foundations, not-for-profits  and people who live on the banks of Virginia Rivers, he set up a summer program that puts young adults to work cleaning up. 

Program Manager Deb Manzari remembers last year’s haul.

“We found about 425 tires that we removed, beer cans, soda cans, chairs, tents, bowling balls, bags of electronics, pipes, just about any trash you can imagine.”

Some of those things leak toxins that have been shown to cause cancer and disrupt the endocrine system – possibly harming people who get their drinking water from rivers but also putting wildlife at risk.

“We see herons and bald eagle, beavers, fish, kingfishers, ducks, geese," Manzari says. "We saw a bear last summer.”

So the summer team will also be sampling the water for the National Cancer Institute and testing for endocrine disruptors.  They start early, hoping to finish up before afternoon thunderstorms strike.  The work can be hard, and tipping canoes have landed some workers in muddy water, but those who have joined Stream Sweepers are excited by the mission.   

“I tend to like more labor intensive jobs.   I like helping out people and nature, and  It was just my calling.” 

“It was nice to get outside today and actually be on the river.”

“I enjoyed, obviously, canoeing.  That was fantastic.  And then getting wet, + and you get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when you find that trash.   You know that animal that could have died?  It didn’t.”

“Yeah, you kind of see trash floating around.  They really helped out last year with the Rapidan, and I wanted to keep going with it.”

“I’m doing something important with my life.” 

“I just enjoy being outside.  I’ve always grown up around the rivers and love the fish, so any way I can help would be nice.   It’s nice to be outside.”

We spoke with Mak Klackle, Taylor Dawson, Daniel Squitieri, Spencer Goodwin, Emily Dieckhoff and Austin Garr in Madison County. The program will run through mid-August.