The Middle Oconee River contains 44 fewer automobile tires than it did a day ago after a Friday cleanup of a 2.8 mile stretch of the river that winds through downtown Athens.
About 40 UGA students and community volunteers set out in UGA Outdoor Recreation canoes and kayaks lent by Big Dog’s on the River. They started at Big Dog’s headquarters on Atlanta Highway and wound up on Macon Highway.
“It would be more (tires), but the canoe flipped,” said Max Grant, who pulled out more than a dozen with brother Will.
“We had to leave them. We piled them up on the riverbank,” said Max Grant, an assistant manager at UGA’s Oglethorpe Dining Commons.
The Grant brothers have had experience pulling tires out of Georgia rivers; they have pulled many out during cleanups of the Oconee down around hometown Milledgeville, including one 300-pound tactor tire. Big Dog’s owner Terry Stephens won’t be surprised if eventually 100 more tires come out in future cleanups. Volunteers and Big Dog’s workers pulled out 150 from a stretch upstream, he said.
The students and community volunteers pulled out a lot more than tires during their three-hour paddle Friday afternoon, including a traffic cone, lots of bottles and cans, plastic and Styrofoam and other brands of polystyrene foam, along with baby dolls and pieces of dolls, one football, one soccer ball and two basketballs. They also hauled out an ancient metal hubcap that someone thought might have come from a 1950s Packard, but no one was sure.
All along, various pipes and hoses protruded out of the banks into the water, but they mostly left them alone.
Kady Martin and Paul Kasay snagged an ancient folding chair. Someone else hauled out what may have been part of a bed headboard, or the back of a wooden bench.
Beverly Bell and Elizbeth Lawandales, both students in UGA’s College of Environment and Design, pulled out a railroad tie.
They got plenty dirty, but didn’t mind.
“Our company gives us 32 hours of volunteer work a year, and this sounded like an exciting one,” said Christie Martin of Intuit Financial Services, who came with four co-workers.
“I’m an environmentalist, and it sounded like a lot of fun,” said one student. “It’s always nice to meet other people who care about things.”
It was also a good way to escape student-related stress, said Martin, who planned to go home and write a 15-page paper Friday night as UGA finals approach. Friend Kasay will return to studying for the GRE test, which he will take next week as he applies to graduate schools.
Friday concluded a week of trash audits, electronics recycling and other environmentally-themed events sponsored by UGA’s Office of Sustainability. Friday’s river cleanup was also sponsored by Big Dog’s on the River, the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, Keep Athens Clarke County Beautiful, and UGA Outdoor Recreation.
Like the others, this one had a practical purpose, but it will also help raise awareness, UGA sustainability coordinator Kevin Kirsche hopes.
“I want you guys to have a blast today, and hopefully connect in a more personal way with this treasure that flows right through our town, and nobody’s aware of it,” he said.