Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries, and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.
I grew up in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay, and have always enjoyed the outdoors. Whenever possible, I would be in the water or on a trail. I would bring a bag to grab any trash I saw along the way, to pick up and remove from entering the local waterway.
A few years ago, my husband and I took up kayaking. The boats have been the perfect addition to our outdoor lifestyle. They offer exercise and adventure with minimal impact on the environment.
The first year we ventured out, we realized kayaks offer a different view of the Chesapeake. We were able to pull off in areas we had not been able to explore before. We discovered wildlife we had not seen before.
We also found that trash is everywhere. Sadly, you can find the impact of humans without them ever being physically present in an area. Our streets lead to our streams. Our streams lead to our rivers. Our rivers lead to the Chesapeake Bay. What was once tossed in a parking lot, was now stuck in the marsh, after being washed down with a heavy rain.
In 2019, my husband and I started a nonprofit that focused on the environment, The High 5 Initiative.
We found that communities want to help, but need a way to do so. So we created a cleanup and a recycling initiative that focused on providing paths for communities to become better environmental stewards. We have also started water monitoring, taking water samples once a month where our local stream meets the Susquehanna River.
So far, we have removed 19,380 pounds of trash from rivers and riparian areas leading to Chesapeake Bay, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, and collected about 12,000 pounds of recycling at our participating collection centers that would have otherwise made it to the landfill. The recycling we collect is sorted, ground and shipped to the only processor in the U.S. to turn it back into raw material.
The past two years, we kicked off our cleanup season with an Earth Day Kayak Cleanup. We chose to use kayaks because the marsh area is not easily reached by land. To make the event more accessible to the community, we partnered with a local kayak rental business, who provides kayaks to volunteers who do not have one. We clean the area in early spring before the brush and grasses grow too thick.
This area is home to many wild species, including the Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagles, and beaver. It is important to keep this area preserved for all these creatures. The marsh seems to act as a filter, collecting what washes down these enormous watersheds all the way from Pennsylvania.
There is some danger having volunteers on the water. We have policies to protect everyone, and the rental company has restrictions for those who borrow kayaks. We have CPR-certified people present, as well as first aid kits. We make sure volunteers stay in shallow water and wear a PFD.
This year, we had more than 50 volunteers who helped collect 3,160 pounds of trash, which included 36 tires.
Some of the weird things we found were a baby doll stroller, a creepy baby doll, and a heating oil drum, but the weirdest thing of all was the butt end of fake deer, used for target practice.
If you would like to volunteer or contribute, you can learn more at: https://thehigh5initiative.com/
Briana Ash is the co-founder of The High 5 Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to practicing, promoting, and enabling the conservation of nature through sustainable practices. This is an edited reprint of an article published last month on the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay blog: https://www.allianceforthebay.org/2022/04/kayaking-our-way-to-clean-streams/ It has been edited to a slightly shorter length and with a few stylistic changes. This edited version and accompanying photo have been reviewed and approved by Briana Ash for publication as a guest Stream of Consciousness column in The Shippensburg News-Chronicle.