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Making the World Brighter

Friends of Little Rocky Run help with annual stream clean-up.

For most people, taking out the trash is low on the list of things to do, especially on the weekend. However, early morning on Saturday, March 31, some 15 volunteers came out to the Little Rocky Run bridge in Clifton to pick up more than 50 bags of trash as part of the 19th Annual Potomac River Watershed Clean-up.

NED AND LYNN FOSTER, who founded the group, Friends of Little Rocky Run, helped to recruit the volunteers. For the Fosters, the mission for the weekend’s project and their group is the same — to ensure that the stream and surrounding area is free of trash and is kept as healthy as possible.

“Little Rocky Run is part of Fairfax County’s drinking water so its health is of vital concern to all of the residents in this county,” says Ned.

At 60 years old, Ned goes out to pick up trash at least once a week these days, but his story and relatively new hobby is unique. “About 10 years ago, Ned started to go for walks in the woods after work,” said Lynn. “He noticed a lot of trash and decided to go out by himself with large plastic bags to pick everything up.”

After picking up all kinds of trash, including old signs, tires, and tractor parts, a man named Cliff Fairweather from the National Audubon Society noticed how much progress Ned was making. Thoroughly impressed and inspired by a single man’s actions, Fairweather suggested that Ned create a group to help him with his efforts.

Jokingly, Ned said, “Next thing I know I was incorporated.” Soon, Friends of Little Rocky Run was created, and the small group has since successfully completed many projects, including tree planting, stream restoration projects, and a variety of projects working with Scout troops.

For example, two years ago, the Fosters worked with a group of Eagle Scouts who planted more than 200 trees in an open area in the Little Rocky Run neighborhood. “You would just be amazed at what a group of 10- to 15-year-old boys can do,” said Ned.

BUT PERHAPS the most impressive thing was the willingness of random people to stop by and assist with the weekend’s watershed clean-up project. While sitting at the booth, Lynn spoke with at least three people who pulled to the side of the road, asked what was going on, and immediately volunteered to help. One young man said, “I just saw that people were hauling large bags of trash and thought that I could help.” He pulled on a pair of gloves, grabbed a tool for picking up trash, and headed off into the woods following the stream.

In total, 52 bags of trash were collected and brought to the dump. “The Little Rocky Run stream is biologically rated poor to fair,” said Ned, “but trashwise it’s the best it’s been in over 50 years.”

The main message that the Fosters hope to share with the public is that people should respect their surroundings and take care of the environment, especially locally. One volunteer, Terry Nelson, explained why picking up trash and even preventing the stream from becoming polluted was so important.

“Ultimately the trash kills the natural life in the streams,” he says, “It’s bad for the neighborhood, bad for the stream, and bad for the community because this is our drinking water.”

In addition to causing pollution in or near the river, some forms of garbage can have devastating consequences for fish and animals that live near the stream. For instance, birds and turtles can get trapped in mesh or ribbons. Plastic circles such as the ones that go around a six-pack of soda are also harmful as animals can get the rings caught around their necks and suffocate.

Also, the Fosters mentioned that leaving tires around is a bad idea for more than just the aesthetic reason. Apparently, discarded tires often have water left in them after it rains, which produces breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects.

While trash is harmful to the environment and is nothing pretty, Ned sums up the main reason for cleaning up the stream on a regular basis: “We should all take more pride in where we live.”

And the volunteers are optimistic. As a whole, they believe that when people do their part it creates a ripple effect. “Soon people start paying more attention and take action themselves,” says Lynn.