Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


June 17, 2014

John Cannon: Looking back on the family’s first River Sweep: 06/18/14

ASHLAND — I have reached that point in my life when just about everything I read reminds me of something that occurred many years ago. I suppose this is another sign of old age and knowing that my past likely stretches back for far more years than my future stretches forward. While I don’t know exactly when my time here on Earth will end, I am confident that the years I have left are far fewer than those I have lived. Thus, I find myself looking at life though a rearview mirror and that always stirs up memories.

For example, when I read the story that the annual River Sweep would be Saturday, I was immediately reminded when my wife, my two youngest children and I volunteered to pick up trash along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River for a few hours that Saturday. My children, who now are in their mid-30s, were in grade school at the time and old enough to actually be useful in picking up trash. I was still young enough and strong enough to pick up large items of debris we found. As for my wife, well she is a Master Gardener who just loves playing in the dirt, although I think she would have much preferred planting some wildflowers along the banks of the Ohio River instead of picking up trash.

At the time, the River Sweep, which had started in 1989, had grown into the largest single day volunteer activity in America, stretching from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill.

Ashland Inc. — which was still headquartered in this community — had signed on as one of the first corporate sponsors of the River Sweep and company bigwigs were encouraging their employees to pick up trash along the river. Thus, when my family arrived at the Ashland boatdock that Saturday morning, there were a lot of people already there.

We were each handed trash bags and told to walk along the river and pick up litter. We tried to do just that, but there were so many people picking up in that relatively small area, that there was little trash left for us to gather. Worst of all, the kids were getting bored and beginning to gripe.

I suggested that we leave the boatdock and go in search of a more plentiful supply of waste. That’s exactly what we did and before long we found what I called at the time the “mother lode” of Ohio River trash.

I don’t remember the exact location but I think it was just off Ky. 244 which runs along the river through Russell and Worthington. I chose that spot because my children had played some soccer games in that area. I parked at the soccer field and the Cannon family marched across the road in search of trash. Wow, did we ever find it!

We had walked only a few feet off the highway when we discovered where people had not simply been littering but where some clod had created an illegal dump. There was literally a small mountain of trash dumped within a few feet of the Ohio River. We quickly filled all of our trash bags and put them in the trunk and back seat of our car. Whew! Did it ever smell! My car continued to smell of garbage for at least another week.

We took our loaded trash bags back to the boatdock where we left them to be responsibly buried in a landfill. Meanwhile, we told organizers where the illegal dump was located and suggested others go out to it because we had quit only because we had run out of trash bags. Others were dispatched to the dump.

In a column immediately after that experience, I suggested that future River Sweeps identify areas needed to be cleaned up instead of simply sending volunteers out to rather aimlessly look for trash. I’m not sure that that column had anything to do with it, but River Sweeps have been more organized and targeted since then.

I mention all this only because of Saturday’s River Sweep. Since Ashland Inc. no longer is headquartered here and is not listed at a sponsor for this year’s Sweep, participation in the River Sweep in this area has not been as enthusiastic as it was when Ashland Inc. was promoting it, but there is still no shortage of trash along the Ohio River and the Sweep is still a worthwhile project that not only gathers tons of trash each year but is a great way to teach young people not to litter by giving them an upclose view of its impact.

That being said, I will not personally be picking up trash along the Ohio River Saturday. While I am getting more and more mobile each day — and I did my Meals on Wheels route Tuesday for the first time since my April 9 knee replacement surgery — I’m just not ready to go traipsing along the Ohio River in search of trash. Maybe next year.

But if you still have the knees God gave you and are reasonably healthy and mobile, consider volunteering for the River Sweep. I recommend it.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.  

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