Volunteers take to canoes for annual Delaware clean-up

THERE ARE MONSTERS in the Delaware River … that's what the volunteers at the 27th annual Kittatinny Canoes Clean On and Under the river told me.

A headless Godzilla and Chucky, too.

Of course, they were both plastic and about 8 inches tall. But still.

The real monster for the Delaware River is the trash monster, though even that is being cut down to size. The totals every year for the two-day event are lower every year.

Sure there are paper and plastic and cans and camp equipment and tires, always tires — just a lot less than there used to be. When this event started back in 1990 there was eight tons, but that was before the army of volunteers. The totals reached as high as 37 tons in 2007. But by 2015,  the total was just over five tons.

Ruth Jones, the owner of Kittatinny Canoes with her son, Dave, said that where there is trash, more trash will collect. On the other hand, when the river is clean, people are less likely to be careless with their trash. Of course Mother Nature can create a mess if there are high waters, and these days if there is lots of trash to collect it's likely that she's the culprit.

After a few tentative moments climbing into their canoes, clean-up crews launch on the Delaware River from Barryville, N.Y., and head off in search of trash along the river's edge. VIDEO BY MEG McGUIRE

Ranger John Donahue and Kittatinny Canoes' Dave Jones address the clean-up crowd. Ruth Jones watches at right.VIDEO BY MEG McGUIRE

Most of the volunteers are happy enough to enjoy a day on the river, even if they don't find some of the stuff found in years past: a stuffed platypus, a Barbie electric truck, a dumpster, a Russian note in a wine bottle. Safes. And tires.

This year, the National Parks Service named this clean-up as one of its 100th birthday celebrations, so there were lots of NPS employees volunteering as well as an army of Kittatinny staff who handled the quite mind-boggling logistics: providing both breakfast and dinner both days; all the canoes; all the drop-off and pick-up buses; and of course, making sure that everyone who went out on a canoe came back.

And this year, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council helped with the huge job of collecting that trash after it has been fished out and bagged by the volunteers, and hauling it off somewhere far from the river.

There's a lesson that the river wants to teach us: Together, we make a difference.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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