Do you know the Little Miami River Keepers? They have a great story of a simple initiative among neighbors that has grown into a major volunteer project attracting national attention. And – they need your help with a simple click.
The River Keepers are in the running for a grant from Tom’s of Maine – if they end up in the top 6 (currently they’re at 13, so you need to get clickin’), they will receive some much needed funding. Click here to vote for them. Learn more about why below.
I spoke to River Keepers Founder Steve Knopp and Barry Tiffany, Sugarcreek Township Administrator and all-around volunteer for the River Keepers, to learn more about this great initiative; they shared with me their history and future plans.
Barry started the conversation by sharing the story of neighbors who care enough to do something. Steve Knopp loves being out on the river to fish (although he admits he rarely catches much), but he doesn’t like to see the trash. Hope Taft (Former First Lady of Ohio) and her family use the river for relaxation and recreation, and each time they’re out, they do their small part to pick up some trash as they ride. These neighbors started talking about their vision for a cleaner environment and decided to do something about the trash that was damaging the river. In 2010, Steve and Hope arranged approximately 60 volunteers who came together to cover 7 miles of the river and pick up one ton of trash.
Everyone was hooked on the great success and what a difference people working together could make. So they did it again in 2011 – only bigger!
This July, the initiative grew. The Little Miami River Keepers – in partnership with other river protection organizations across the region – orchestrated a clean-up of 400+ volunteers covering all 105 miles of the Little Miami (from its source in Clark Co. to the southern tip where it meets the Ohio River) and they collected 10-15 tons (20-30,000 pounds) of trash – everything from Styrofoam cups and plastic bags to hundreds of tires and multiple television sets. Barry and Steve shared a unique clean-up story: They were in a group that pulled out a 28 foot wrought iron utility pole (weighing approx 300 lbs) out of the river. Being unsure how to deal with it in the canoes (and after losing it a few times), Barry hopped on and rode it down the river to a point where they could get it out.
I asked Barry how the river gets so dirty. He explained that the challenge is never-ending. Some trash accumulates from drains washing into the tributaries and making their way to the river, some trash is from people in canoes who tip over and everything floats away, and other trash is specifically dumped. One team of volunteers who started their clean-up by a bridge in Greene County found 5 TV sets dumped down by the river – presumably just tossed out of cars. They lugged the sets up to the side of the road for pick-up and began work. So many tires were found during the clean-up because even when fully submerged, the tires just go with the flow of the water until hung up by a tree root or something that stops it. Broken glass is a major concern due to the danger element.
River cleanliness is important to different people for different reasons. Talking to Barry, you can feel a pride in his voice for the Miami Valley and the region. He wants to highlight one of the great natural resources that’s available here. Steve thinks of the river as Dayton’s own amusement park. He says, “You can take your kids, grandkids, friends – and for absolutely zero cost you can enjoy what the river has to offer – fishing, canoeing, picnicking, you can take your own intertube and just have a blast with a group of friends.” But more than just having a fun time in the river, he knows the value of making a recreation spot clean. He continues, “When you visit the (amusement) park, they’re pristine clean and there’s no trash. Now imagine going to the Little Miami with styrophoam and a car turned upside down.” He knows trash in the river isn’t going to attract fun-seekers, so he wants to clean it up to get it to its “complete natural state.” Steve said that he’s a much more visual person, whereas Hope can tell you the types of fish and the number of species and what’s happening in the river as a natural environment. Everyone has their reason for wanting it clean, but getting the job done is what’s most important.
Barry said that the River Keepers are doing what they can to create awareness and encourage people to stop dumping, but he acknowledges that it’ll always be a problem. So – the focus of the River Keepers is to clean. In doing so, they have applied to Tom’s of Maine for a grant. The six organizations from across the county who are voted to win will each receive financial support. If they win the $10,000, that will support an individual clean-up project. If they come out as the big winner of the $50K, they will be able to turn it into a trust for the long-term success of the group.
Why would the organization need so much money for a few volunteers to clean up the river? It’s a major undertaking that needs more than just manpower. In addition to the supplies each volunteer needs, the renting of the canoes, and the River Keepers plan to make a major impact by bringing in some big machinery. According to Steve, even though they’ve picked up a lot of trash – there’s easily ten times the debris still in the river. So much of the trash is large-scale and can’t be handled by canoes – they’ve found old cars that have been in the river for over 20 years, dozens of 55-Gallon barrel drums, big truck tires (with rims), a hot tub and a dumpster among the larger items to be pulled out of the river. The grant from Tom’s of Maine will help fund this major endeavor by allowing them to contract with construction companies who can pull out these large items and cover the expenses incurred by private residents who have their property damaged when a back-hoe drives through “Farmer Joe’s” field pulling out an old car.
So, help out a great initiative of neighbors banning together and making a major difference for all of us who enjoy the over 100 miles of what the Little Miami has to offer. Vote today (and tomorrow, and everyday until voting ends).
Info on the Little Miami State and National Scenic River – the first river to receive that official designation from the State of Ohio.
And don’t forget to VOTE for them to win the grant!