June 22, 2008

600 Volunteers Clean Up Area Riverbanks

By Celanie Polanick, The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.

Jun. 22--For young River Sweep cleanup volunteers such as Austin Samples, preserving the riverside can mean more than picking up a few empty soda cans.

Austin, 9, spent half an hour Saturday painting a park bench red in a picnic shelter near Lock and Dam No. 4 of the Allegheny River in the Natrona section of Harrison. He painted slowly, squinting through brown, kid-sized, wire-rim glasses.

At the end of it, he was proud, dirty, and somewhat philosophical.

"I painted over the 'f-word,'" he said. "I tried to do it carefully. It tells them that we care, that I care."

Once "they" know that, Austin said, "they won't write bad words on the benches."

His brother, Cameron, 7, was covered in blue from painting parking poles nearby.

Cameron likes participating in the cleanup because it "makes everything clean and doesn't ruin stuff," he said.

Natrona was one of four sites in the Alle-Kiski Valley -- including Allegheny Township, Cheswick and Ford City -- to host River Sweep.

River Sweep is an interstate, volunteer cleanup along the Ohio River and its tributaries that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

More than 600 people volunteered to clean the sides of the region's rivers. Among what they found were dozens of bicycles, 160 tires and one large highway road sign.

During River Sweep, volunteers picked up trash from more than 3,000 miles of shoreline of the Ohio River and its tributaries in six states.

The Ohio River is formed at Pittsburgh's Point State Park from the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and it flows into the Mississippi River at Cairo, Ill., about 980 miles away.

The event is organized by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, an interstate water pollution agency for the Ohio River Valley, along with environmental protection and natural resource agencies from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

In towns, cities and neighborhoods along the rivers, like Natrona, the volunteer effort also includes beautifying park areas and public property along the river.

The Natrona crew included 52 people by day's end. They collected 120 bags of trash from the riverside and around town.

Many of the volunteers were members of the community group Natrona Comes Together, according to Pat Walters, 70, who is secretary of the group and helped coordinate the effort. Between them, they cleaned and spruced up about a mile of the riverside, from Lock 4 to Sycamore Street, Walters said.

Natrona Comes Together has done four cleanups in eight weeks around town, she said.

"We've been quite busy for a small, grassroots organization," Walters said.

Walters' cousin, Natalie Bayne, 9, came, too, with her dad, Darryl, 47. Natalie used some of Austin's red paint, donated by L. Arnold & Sons Hardware of Harrison, on the park's fence.

"We don't want it to look all sloppy," she said.

A few feet away, Michelene Bacha Heller, 59, was taking a break with her grandchildren, Sofia, 7, and Oscar, 4, who had red rings around their mouths from drinking cherry soda donated by the Natrona Bottling Co. down the street.

They were along to pick up trash for the cleanup for the third year, their grandmother said.

"They've done it since they were babies," she said, showing off cell phone photos of Oscar as a toddler holding a cleanup bag and his sister wearing an orange volunteer vest.

"When they come to visit, the first thing they say is, 'Nana, let's get our bags and gloves and go collect garbage!'"

The river seems to be cleaner this year than in previous years, she said.

"It's looking a lot better. In years before, there was so much trash.

"Now, people are becoming more aware."

Celanie Polanick can be reached at [email protected] or 724-226-4702.


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