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Time to Take Out The Trash

Annual river cleanup effort scheduled for April 5.

After a winter of snow storms, rain storms and some flooding, more trash than usual has made its way into the Potomac River.

This year may be a bit different from last year. “I do expect there to be more large trash,” said Matt Berres, director of community action for the Potomac Conservancy.

The large amount of precipitation this winter caused river levels to rise, which, in turn will pick up more large items such as tires, Berres said. “After the ‘96 flood, we had a large amount of trash, and this was the biggest [precipitation amount] since then,” Berres said.

Each year for the past 15, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has sponsored a Potomac River cleanup effort. This time, the foundation has set the goal of having the river completely clean in a decade.

“We’d like to put ourselves out of the cleanup business in 10 years,” said Michelle Radiz, cleanup coordinator for the foundation.

“We’re trying to collect hard data on the amount of plastic we collect,” Radiz said. She said the group hopes to use the data to better stop litter in the future.

This year’s cleanup is scheduled for April 5 from 9 a.m. to noon. “There’s definitely plenty of trash out there,” said Radiz.

The foundation works to coordinate the cleanup from Pennsylvania to St. Mary’s County, Md. In the Washington area, the Arlington based Potomac Conservancy is coordinating the efforts.

“A lot of this trash is dangerous to be in the river,” said Matt Berres, director of community action for the conservancy. Berres gave examples of items such as broken glass, fishing lines and small bits of Styrofoam. “The fish may mistake them for food,” Berres said.

There are seven sites in Montgomery County where volunteers are needed. “Most of the sites are the popular visitors areas. In most cases, the trash ends up where people visit,” Berres said.

“It might be their favorite site on the river,” said Georgeann Smale. Smale is coordinating the cleanup in Great Falls Tavern area. “I do a lot of volunteering and that three hour cleanup I found to be one of the most satisfying experiences,” Smale said.

Several of the Montgomery County sites can use the help of kayakers or canoers. “They can help us get to some of things we can’t reach,” said Berres.

Smale, however, has not asked for boaters or children under 16 unless accompanied by an adult, as a safety precaution. “I don’t think we want them near Great Falls,” Smale said.

Volunteers do not have to worry about the larger items if they feel they can’t lift them. “If we do find a site where there’s some heavier items, we’ll find some people to pick them up,” Berres said. He believes that Montgomery County sites, being further upstream, may have more of the larger items. “The smaller stuff tends to go downstream,” he said.

Last year’s cleanup collected 122 tons of trash along the river. “We expect at least 100 tons this year,” said Radiz.

Berres gave some advice to those who wish to volunteer. “Generally, we encourage people to show up right at nine,” Berres said. He said that participants will be given a trash bag and gloves and put in groups of two or three. “People should definitely wear long pants and shoes or boots they don’t mind getting muddy,” Berres said. He also advised people to dress in layers and bring a change of clothes to keep in their car.