Nearly 30 volunteers spent five hours Friday removing an estimated 5,000 pounds of trash from a massive pile that had formed on the Yellow River, just south of the Georgia international Horse Park in Conyers.
But there’s still work to be done, and several river cleanups are coming up.
Tonya Bechtler and other members of the Newton County-based Yellow River Water Trail group discovered the trash pile Aug. 26. It, along with a sizeable logjam, blocked the river, preventing kayakers from passing. A cleanup was scheduled for Friday, and volunteers came from as far as six hours away to clean up the biggest trash collections any of them had ever seen,
"They were like vultures on a carcass; they jumped on the pile of trash and before you knew it, they had an assembly line of trash bags. We met at 9 a.m. and were done by 2 p.m. I thought for sure it would take us three weekends to do it," Bechtler said.
About 27 volunteers showed up for the cleanup, and though she’s waiting for an official count, Bechtler estimated the group filled 500 bags of trash. Bechtler had to buy 300 more bags in the middle of the cleanup.
Among the more interesting finds were huge tractor trailer tires, propane tanks, two large drum containers, children’s toy wagons, and thousands of sports balls.
"Also, Styrofoam. I hate Styrofoam. Every Styrofoam cup gets broken into 40-50 pieces, and we have to pick up every piece," said Bechtler.
Now, the trick will be getting the trash bags to dumpsters that are more than three-quarters of a mile away.
Some volunteers returned to the scene Saturday to move the trash bags from the riverbanks to a dry creek bed about a half-mile away; however, the same environmental rules that protect the river also prevent the group from cutting a path through the creek bed for a vehicle, Bechtler said.
The plan is to move the bags across the creek bed and load them onto a trailer attached to a utility terrain vehicle to transport the bags to the dumpsters at the Horse Park; the city on Conyers has said it will remove the trash, she said.
Now that the river is clean, it’s time to clean up the surrounding woods, which have plenty of trash from when the river flooded previously.
A cleanup is planned Oct. 5 at the Horse Park at 9 a.m. Volunteers are to meet at the parking lot in front of the park’s maintenance building and are asked to bring their own water and wear long pants and shoes with good grips for hiking through the woods.
Newton County’s Rivers Alive is Oct. 5, and groups will be cleaning up various banks in the county.
Yellow River Water Trail will host an on-river cleanup that day, focusing 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.
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 email@example.com or faxed to 770-784-2082. Participants are encouraged to wear closed-toe shoes and long pants, and should be prepared to get wet.
Finally, the Boy Scouts of America is getting involved in the river cleanup. The group owns more than 1,300 acres of land, including a stretch along the Yellow River just north of Ga. Highway 212.
Bechtler said the Scouts are planning to make more use of the Yellow River for summers program in future years.
The four cleanups will help improve a large stretch of the river from the Horse Park all the way to Jackson Lake. Kayak and canoe put-ins have been installed recently at the Horse Park and in Newton County at a Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority pump station off the Access Road where the road crosses the river, just east of Harold Dobbs Road.
Join the Yellow River group
The Yellow River Water Trail volunteer group meets once a month on a rotating Wednesday. The group’s next meeting is at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Porterdale City Hall, 2400 Main St.
The group is working on becoming an official nonprofit, having created a board of directors and committees with the help of professional training via a National Park Service educational grant; officials from the Georgia River Network are providing the training.
Right now, Bechtler and other members are spending their own money to pay for the cleanups, but she said the group hopes to begin having official members and to use membership fees, along with any grants it can get, to do more for river health and recreation.
"I used to think the Yellow River was nasty, but I didn’t realize it actually tests very well (for quality). It’s just full of red dirt sediment, which gives it its color," Bechtler said, adding that the river is tested monthly.
"We all need to overcome the stereotype and start taking care of it; we need to quit using it as a dumping site and garbage can and start using it as a resource and asset. People relocating here for Baxter and other companies are looking for these kinds of outdoor recreation."