Follow Katie @neaglereporter
Kittatinny Canoes 24th annual Delaware river cleanup took place this week where: a bag of snakes, a freezer of spoiled meat and a note not written in English was found in a wine bottle by some of the 143 volunteers.
The first cleanup took place in 1990, when Kittatinny owner, Ruth Jones felt the river had become too polluted. The problem though, initially the group didn't have a clue how to cleanup a river, and so they, "winged it," she said. Never before, had anyone attempted to rid the river of the trash. It took the first four years to, "effectively and efficiently cleanup the river," she stated.
Many lessons were learned, that included the realization that staff couldn't participate because they were needed to work. As the years went on, so to, did the lessons and eventually the recognition that led the family to the White House where Jones met President George H. W. Bush in the East Room. She laughed when she expressed her surprise in his height and how she hasn't washed her hand since that special meeting. The group won three first place awards in Take Pride in Pennsylvania and two first place awards in Take Pride in America, which led to the trip to Washington, D.C. Journalist Linda Evans gave the Jones an award in Constitution Hall and the America Outdoors Association started a national river cleanup in May because the Jones inspired it. May though, Jones explained, is not the right time for the cleanup because the water is too cold and too high, so after two holiday weekends, and before August when the staff goes back to college, the middle of July is best for the trip.
In the early years, "Bud was king of the river," followed by Coors and Corona, Jones said. Today, plastic water bottles have replaced the alcohol containers, although most of the trash actually comes from the tributaries when there are high waters. Initially a three day trip, the 55 mile trip has been condensed into a two day journey from Barryville, New York to Smithfield Beach in Pennsylvania, since the river isn't as polluted as it once was. Jones said we have, "accomplished what we set out to do and then some."
Although she does not know the exact cost of the trip, at one point it was estimated to cost $30,000 because of payroll for employees, fuel, food and equipment. A very labor intensive week, Jones said it is referred to as "hell week," because the kitchen staff provides both breakfast and dinner for everyone, plus customers are still being taken care of.
Jones said she invests the time, money and energy into the cleanup simply because, "I love the river." After a little nudging for a further explanation, she added that somebody has to do it because, "its a resource that we use and you can't keep taking from a resource and not put something back." Basically though, she added that the cleanup takes place because of her passion for the waters in which she has lived near her entire life.
Page 2 of 2 - Everyone's energy was high Monday morning before the volunteers set forth on this year's trip. Jones acknowledged how clean the river has become, but she told the volunteers that it must stay clean, "come hell or high water and I'll make sure of that." There were four launches each day, so the participants could unload the trash they found at the different access points. Wednesday, volunteers separated the trash at the Matamoras base so the appropriate items could be recycled.
Jones's son, Dave said the annual river cleanup has dramatically changed the river and as a diver, he said its great because there was a time when people could dive 30 feet down and the bottom was lined with trash to where it was "appalling." Aside from the alcohol cans, tires have always been an issue. There was a time when they could have filled rooms. Some were even 1,500 pounds apiece, to which Dave said it was, "unbelievable what we got." The volunteers collected 132 tires this year, which isn't bad considering its 43 less than last year. The fourth year of the cleanup, 1,004 tires were collected.
On hand and ready to partake in the trip Monday morning, Superintendent of the Upper Delaware River and Recreational River, Sean McGinnis said with the park service facing budget difficulties, the volunteerism is a big help. He mentioned how the park service had its own cleanup a few weeks ago, but Kittatinny's was like, "icing on the cake."
In the years to follow the trip, many family traditions were born as there are a few families who have been volunteering since the trip initiated years ago.
Members of "Papa Joe's group," traveled from as far away as Texas to attend the cleanup. The late Joe Buchel initiated the family trip 21 years ago, taking his children and eventually his grandchildren and never allowing them to bring electronics. Instead, the kids spent quality time learning about nature, playing games like marbles and starting fires in the rain, "all sorts of good things," explained his daughter Patti. This year, 20 members of the family attended the annual event and when Joe passed away last year, the family held his memorial at Kittatinny because, "its what he wanted," she said.
Traveling form Heights Town, New Jersey, Kathy Jackson attended her second cleanup with her husband Bob who has participated for the last 12 years. Bob though, has been camping at Kittatinny since 1974 because the river is a great getaway and the, "Jones are good people," he said. Despite the work, Bob said he helps because he feels as though he is helping Jones with her river.
For 15 years, Ben Mirsky from Long Island has helped rid the Delaware of trash. The tradition started when he was seven and his grandmother first started taking him. Today, with his wife Alley, he said the pair take part in the trip because of the, "history, the memories, the experiences that only come once a summer."