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Boatloads of trash: Many hands do dirty work during inaugural river cleanup

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Trash is picked from the river during the Splash For Trash river clean up on the Tar River on June 16, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


Mackenzie Tewksbury
The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 18, 2018

A love seat. A grill. A paddle boat.

Three seemingly very different things — but all three were pulled out of the Tar River on Saturday by dozens of people who are dedicated to keeping the river clean.

Volunteers from all over Pitt County gathered at the Town Common Saturday morning for the inaugural Splash For Trash Tar River Clean Up sponsored by the Greenville Noon Rotary. The group sent kayakers and boaters both up and downstream to pick up anything and everything they could find.

Participants were not afraid to get dirty, like 24-year-old Greenville resident Dylan Letchworth, who maneuvered through the nooks and crannies of the river, squeezing his kayak into hard-to-reach places to get all of the trash he could find. For most of the morning, he hung on shaky branches, stood waist deep in mud and dodged wildlife. But when he came out of the river hours later with dirt under his fingernails, sweat on his brow and scrapes on his left arm, he had a ear-to-ear smile on his face.

“Why not make everything better?” Letchworth said, as he scanned the two areas of the river he spent most of his time Saturday morning. “We’ve been blessed with this Earth, why not take care of it?”

Letchworth ventured out on a solo-driven river cleanup earlier in the week. He started in Falkland and paddled 11 miles to the Town Common while picking up all trash he could fit in the single trash bag he brought with him. It wasn’t until he went to Blackbeard Coffee Roasters in downtown Greenville later that day that he learned about Saturday’s organized river clean up, but when he found out, he was all in. 

“If I do it, maybe other people will take it and do the same thing,” he said. “What’s in it to say, ‘Hey, what are you doing tomorrow, come on out and paddle the river and pick up trash?’”

Greenville Noon Rotary President Wade Scales patrolled the river on his motor boat, quick to offer words of encouragement to kayakers and even more quickly to take their collected trash; filling his boat with eight trash bags, two coolers full of garbage, a basketball, two tires and much more.

“This is pretty work,” he’d say with a smile to passing kayakers, offering cold water and sunscreen. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

That sentiment was not lost on Letchworth, either, as he collected trash with people who he had never before. He said if everybody helps just a little, the difference could be exponential.

“If everybody picks up 10 water bottles, it’s going to make a big dent in it. ... If enough people chip in. It’s gonna make a big difference,” Letchworth said. “If we had two times more people we’d have twice as much trash.”

John Person, an organizer of the event, has been enjoying the river for nearly 30 years — friends jokingly called him a “river rat” throughout the morning. He said the littering he sees on the river is disheartening, and wanted to do something to help one of his favorite places. 

“I value the resource,” Person said. “The Tar River is the greatest environmental asset in Pitt county and in my opinion it is largely ignored.” 

As boaters and kayaks returned from their trash quest Saturday afternoon, organizers estimated they had already collected a couple hundred pounds of trash, leaving them optimistic for the river and for the future of the event.

“Hopefully this will be an annual event going forward. This is the inaugural event. Hopefully it will grow going forward.”

Contact Mackenzie at mtewksbury@reflector.com or 329-9585. 


Vist this story on reflector.com for more images from the event.