Sweep the Hooch

High waters = less trash to collect

by Wes Mayer


From left, Henry Jacobs, regional outreach coordinator with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, keeps count as Greg Hyde, VP of Friends of Chattahoochee Bend State Park, weighs the trash collected by volunteers. On right, Brock Railey and Jan Pierce collect bags. 

Although the recent rain washed most of the garbage downriver, volunteers still collected a fair amount of trash from the Chattahoochee River Saturday during the annual Sweep the Hooch event.

Around 36 volunteers gathered at the Chattahoochee Bend State Park’s boat ramp to help clean the river Saturday, said Steve St. Laurent, president of the Friends of the Chattahoochee Bend State Park. The park is the southernmost of the 27 cleanup sites along the Chattahoochee River, and for the event, volunteers paddled along 3.3 miles of the river collecting trash from the banks, eddies in the water and from trees along the water.

Normally, the river is about 4 to 5 feet deep, said Glenn Flake, past president of the Friends of the Chattahoochee Bend State Park. But with the rain, the water was raised to almost 9 feet. Flake said he paddled the river a few days before the event, and, just coasting, he was traveling 3.4 mph.

This means most of the trash was either washed away downriver or the water covered up most of the trees and other obstacles where trash gets caught. Flake described the cleanup as picking lint off sweaters. He said most of the trash probably washed down to West Point Lake, and he wasn’t sure if they had a large cleanup program.

Last year, the volunteers collected around 780 pounds of debris, Flake said. This year, they collected a little more than 200 pounds. Although the high water makes the river cleaner, when it recedes, people will begin to see trash again.

There was some excitement at Saturday’s event. A total of four people ended up going for a swim in the 60-degree water after they got too close to trees and logs in the water and were caught by the current.

Pamela Williford and her daughter Madison were snagged when they approached a tree in the water to gather some trash. Pamela said it was Madison’s first time in the water, and she didn’t know to push away from the tree – the current that was rushing underneath the tree sucked them in and overturned their boat.

The two were able to grab onto the tree and yell for help, Pamela said, and nearby Coweta County Fire Department personnel came to their rescue. Five firefighters were on the river for the event – Capt. Mark Griffin and firefighters Chad Hardage and Chris Barnes were in the boat, and firefighters Cody Darracott and Adam Moss were in separate kayaks.

Pamela and Madison were taken ashore shivering and a little shaken, and Coweta County EMS was contacted for an ambulance to check on the two, but neither needed to be transported. They were the second pair Saturday to have their kayak flipped by the current, according to officials.

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