Volunteers clean along Washington County waterways

Photo by Doug Loyer Volunteers with Friends of the Lower Muskingum River clean an area below Devol’s Dam on Saturday.

DEVOLA — Respect the world we live in, don’t litter.

That was the general message of those who volunteered Saturday to clean up along local the river banks as part of the annual Ohio River Sweep.

Many groups of volunteers made a difference by picking up debris along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Cairo, Ill., as well as its tributaries and on river banks throughout the state of Ohio. The organized efforts were part of the 2019 sweep organized by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

ORSANCO is an interstate water pollution agency established in 1948 to improve the water quality in the Ohio River Basin for drinking, industrial and recreational purposes and to support a healthy and diverse aquatic community. The Ohio River alone, supports over 160 species of fish and other wildlife.

Locally, the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River (FLMR) organized a river sweep just below the west side of Devol’s Dam on the Muskingum River, a few miles north of its confluence with the Ohio River.

Photo by Doug Loyer Plastic in rivers and oceans is a serious problem to wildlife and humans.

FLMR is a charitable organization and land trust that acquires land or conservation easements, stewards land and organizes conservation efforts.

The group aims to protect natural habitats, maintain water quality and preserve scenic views. Among other goals, it works to ensure the land is always available for farming, forestry and outdoor recreational use.

The Muskingum River is the largest watershed in Ohio. It drains the eastern third of the state and empties into the Ohio River.

On Saturday, the group concentrated on a low-lying section of land just below Devol’s Dam on the west side of the river. Volunteers were ferried by canoe across a creek to get there because it was unreachable by foot. Trash collects in that area when the river level rises and then recedes.

“It was acquired because there are mussels there that we are trying to protect,” said Tiffany Harvey, executive director of FLMR.

“Basically there are three large piles of garbage that have collected there and we are trying to clear it out,” she said. “We do cleanups all year round. It’s amazing how much trash there is. What we collect mostly is water bottles, pop bottles, tires and barrels. But, there is a little bit of everything.”

The volunteers received gloves and trash bags and started pitching in. They tried to recycle as much as they could by separately collecting plastic, glass, metal and later taking the bags to the recycling center. At the conclusion, volunteers received a t-shirt and were treated to pizza.

“It’s extremely important that everyone take a part in agriculture, nature and our environment. It affects everything, our fish, turtles, everything,” said Tiffany’s mother, Tracy Harvey of Parkersburg. “Keeping it clean is not only for looks, but for the health of Mother Nature. We can’t stop it all, but we can put a dent in it.”

“I wish we didn’t to do this, but it’s necessary,” said FLMR board member Matt Halfhill of Whipple. “A lot of it is negligence, not caring.”

Halfhill, who loves to fish and hunt, wants the environment to be clean. He originally started river sweeping as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

We’re trying to get some of the plastic and styrofoam out,” he said. “There’s a lot of glass and tires too. The more of this that we can get out, means less that will reach the Mississippi and to the ocean.”

Plastic is a serious problem in rivers and oceans. In a 2006 report, “Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,” Greenpeace stated that at least 267 animal species are known to have suffered from ingestion of plastic debris and entanglement. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic kills about 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds and fish.

Perl Totman, 88, of Marietta — and of Muskingum Park tree carving fame — has been helping with the sweep for three or four years. Totman said when a person starts looking around, there is an enormous amount of trash.

Totman believes the key word is “respect.”

“People need to respect other people’s land,” said Totman. “Just like they would treat their own front yard.”

Andrea Sites, of Marietta, who is associated with FLMR, brought her two kids, Colton, 14, and Cathy, 9, on Saturday to help out, stressing the importance of keeping the environment as clean as possible.

“I absolutely want to get my kids involved,” emphasized Sites. “I think that if every human took one hour a year to pick up litter … just think how much better the world would be. I urge people to reduce the amount of single use plastics they use. It’s a problem in every household. Plastic lasts so long.”

Colton said the experience will help him in the future to recycle and help make the world a better place.

“I enjoy helping out,” added his sister Cathy. “I like helping this world be healthier and keep it going on.”

Littering is a pet peeve of Jim Wood of Cornerville.

“I believe that the health of the land equates to the health of the people,” said Wood who has worked for the federal government in the Bureau of Land Management for 37 years taking care of the land.

“When I do school programs, I ask kids what is the one thing they can all do every day to make our world a better place to live and my answer is … don’t litter. We can all do that,” reminded Wood. “Hold on to your trash until you get to a trash can.”

Mike Gulliver and others regularly remove the trash in the Devol’s Dam west side parking area and near the Rainbow Creek area to keep it clean. Gulliver said they try to stay on top of it so the area looks nice.

For more information about the local river sweeps, visit ORSANCO.org and MuskingumRiver.org.