73 Bags of Garbage Pulled From Rivers

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
25 September 2011
By Kim Leonard

Kayakers and canoeists combed the waters and shorelines of the three rivers near the Point on Saturday and collected 73 bags of trash, plus items that included a patio umbrella, bike tires, tarps, ropes and lumber.

That was "more, much more" than cleanup organizer David Rohm expected.

"We could have had 100 kayakers and been out all day and not come close to getting it all," he said.

About 35 volunteers joined the four-hour Paddle Without Pollution effort, starting from one of three launch points: the Allegheny River shore in Millvale, the Ohio River's north shore across from Brunot's Island, and South Side Riverfront Park along the Monongahela River. In all, they covered about 26 miles of shoreline on both sides of each river, before meeting at the Point.

Rohm of Scott and his wife, Melissa, planned the cleanup after taking their first kayaking trip near the Point in July.

Until then, they'd traveled waterways at Presque Isle in Erie, Moraine State Park and other Western Pennsylvania locales, always picking up small bags of litter because, "You're in the water. Why do you want to paddle through garbage?" Melissa Rohm said.

But on their trip around Pittsburgh's rivers, "We are paddling to the Point, and David and I are seeing way too much for the two of us to handle," she said.

They created a Paddling Without Pollution website, posted notices and enlisted friends to contact other canoeists and kayakers. Volunteers traveled alone yesterday in kayaks, or in pairs in canoes, and used their paddles to pluck trash out of the water and put it into bags. Some left their vessels to pick up trash on the shorelines.

Cleanup crews in a motorized fishing boat and a pontoon boat followed along, gathering full trash bags from the shorelines or from the other watercraft. The nonprofit Allegheny CleanWays provided trash bags, and Kayak Pittsburgh loaned some vessels for volunteers who didn't have their own.

Trouble spots with the most litter: The South Side and the Allegheny River shores by the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Plastic bottles made up about 70 percent of the trash collected, said David Rohm, who hopes to make the cleanup an annual event.

Ken Boas said he and his wife, Andrea London, of Point Breeze likely will paddle more often in the rivers around Pittsburgh, after taking part it the cleanup.

"This is inspiring," London said, "especially when there is so much negative news about what is happening to the rivers."

Washington-based American Rivers ranked the Monongahela as the ninth-most endangered river in the country last year, because of the expanding natural gas industry in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Jean Kirby of Friendship, a friend of London and Boas, often canoes along the city's rivers.

"It's always unpleasant," she said of the amount of trash in the water. "I'm sort of anti-litter everywhere. It would be easy for us not to do this in the first place."

Kim Leonard can be reached at kleonard@tribweb.com or 412-380-5606.