When Tonya Bechtler put her kayak in the Yellow River, near the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, and began paddling downstream recently, she ran into a troubling obstacle — the biggest pile of trash she’d ever seen on a river.
Containing massive amounts of plastic bottles and a fair share of discarded sports balls along with a refrigerator and 55-gallon drum, the trash pile, mixed in with lots of logs, forms a barrier across the entire width of the river.
Bechtler and other members of the Newton County-based volunteer group Yellow River Water Trail are planning a river cleanup Sept.20 to begin hauling off trash piece by piece in the hope of opening the river back up and allowing people to paddle uninterrupted from Gwinnett County all the way to Jackson Lake.
"It’s going to be a long, tedious process," Bechtler said Friday.
The pile is not visible on the river on Google satellite images from last year, Bechtler said, surmising that such piles can accumulate many times a year.
"Sometimes you don’t feel like you put a dent in it at all, even though you spend a lot of time, Bechtler said.
Only experienced boaters are asked to come to the Sept. 20 cleanup because the difficulty level is increased with participants having to pick up trash while in kayaks and canoes. There isn’t a place to put a flat-bottom boat on the river in the area, Bechtler said.
"The trash pile is in the middle of nowhere. We want to make sure the Sept. 20 cleanup goes well and don’t want an emergency situation," Bechtler said.
The boaters will have to paddle out to the trash, find a way to anchor themselves, pick up and place trash into plastic bags and then take the bags back to shore. A utility vehicle will take the trash to dumpsters at the Horse Park; Bechtler said the city of Conyers has been supportive of the cleanup and other river efforts.
The groups is also looking into leasing a Bandalong litter trap, a device put in rivers and other bodies of water that catches floating litter and trash, while allowing fish to pass underneath. Designed by Australian company Bandalong International, the litter traps are made in the United States by Storm Water Systems out of Cleveland, Ga.
Bechtler said cities and counties often don’t want to pay the cost of the traps. The makers of the litter traps don’t list prices on their website, but Bechtler said she believes the traps cost around $100,000.
Another avenue for the Yellow River Water Trail group is to pursue a federal grant through the nonprofit Upper Ocmulgee River and Resource Conservation and Development Council.
"We don’t even have a checking account," Bechtler said of the Yellow River Water Trail group. "We’ve been spending our own individual money for a year, growing and moving and grabbing as many people along as we can. Let’s get these rivers cleaned up; let’s quit ignoring them.’’
Other area river cleanups
In conjunction with the Oct. 5 Newton County Rivers Alive cleanup , an annual event where people walk the shores of various waterways and pick up trash from the banks, Yellow River Water Trail is hosting another on-river cleanup effort.
Bechtler said the on-river cleanup will focus on the area from around I-20 to Porterdale; this event will be open to all levels of boaters, though only adults are encouraged to attend.
The group is getting two flat-bottom boats for the cleanup.
To register for Newton County’s Rivers Alive, visit kcnb.biz and complete the pre-registration and release forms; completed forms should be sent to Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 770-784-2082. Participants are encouraged to wear closed-toe shoes and long pants, and should prepare to get wet.
The next weekend, on Oct. 12, Rockdale County is holding its Rivers Alive event.
To register, download the form at rockdalecounty.org or email email@example.com. For more information contact the Rockdale County’s Stormwater Utility department at 770-278-7142.
People can also contact Bechtler at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kimberly Brown of the Porterdale Yak Club kayak rental store at email@example.com to help in the continual cleanup process.