Matthew Crawford, 12, takes a tire from his father, Mark Crawford, Saturday morning during the annual Ohio River Sweep. The Crawford family was part of a cleanup group working the Big Sandy River near its confluence with the Ohio River.

Marion Russell remembers a time not so long when so many people would volunteer for the Ohio River Sweep that he would barely have enough T-shirts, soft drinks and garbage bags to supply all of them.

Back then, said Russell — Ashland’s acting public services director and coordinator of the River Sweep site at the city’s boat ramp — corporations, including Ashland Inc., would recruit dozens of employees to pick up debris from along the river’s shoreline.

But it’s not like that anymore. Not in Ashland, anyway.

This year’s sweep took place Saturday and drew only a few hardy souls to the city’s riverfront. However, those who did show up said they were committed to the cause.

“I think the river is a great resource,” said Scott Tatman of Ashland. “If we don’t get out and take care of it, we can’t expect that anyone else will. If we want to continue to use it and be proud of it in the future, it’s up to us.”

Tatman was joined in removing refuse from the river bank by his 15-year-old son, Alex, a junior at Paul G. Blazer High School, who had just come from cross-country practice.

Alex Tatman said he thought helping to keep the river clean was well worth sacrificing part of his Saturday.

“I enjoy it,” he said.

This was the Tatmans’ second year of participating in the River Sweep. Scott Tatman said he knew from last year’s experience that they’d find the most garbage near the twin bridges, and that’s where they were headed.

Matthew and Angela Holley of Summit brought their daughters, Autumn and Aurora, both 8, with them to the sweep. They said their main objective was to instill a sense of community pride in the girls.

“We’ve been wanting to come out every year, but this is the first year we’ve both been able to get the day off,” Angela Holley said.

Matthew Holley said one of the family’s more interesting finds was a metal sign reading “Help Keep the Park Clean.” He said he picked up from the edge of the water. He and his wife also fished out a tire and wheel.

The girls, though, both said they were more interested in picking up seashells than litter.

Chris Long of Ashland also said he took part in the River Sweep to teach his children the value of volunteerism. He was accompanied by his 14-year-old daughter, Karissa.

“I’ve got another girl (Marissa, 11), but I couldn’t get her out of bed,” he said with a laugh.

Long said the River Sweep was one of a number of community events in which he and his girls participate. Others, he said, include Repair Affair and the March of Dimes’ Walk-a-Thon.

Russell, the Ashland site coordinator, said he’d like to see something done to get more people involved in future River Sweeps. One suggestion he had was more concerted efforts by companies aimed at encouraging their employees to participate.

“There just needs to be something done to renew interest,” he said.

Russell said he thought there might be a perception that the river’s banks don’t need polishing up every year. But, the fact of the matter is, each winter brings fresh deposits of debris, he said.

The sweep is sponsored by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the water pollution control agency for the Ohio River Valley. The event stretches the entire length of the river, from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill., and along several of its major tributaries.

In addition to the Ashland boat ramp, volunteers picked up trash at several other local sites along the river, including Catlettsburg, Russell, Greenup, Worthington and South Shore.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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