On April 18, 26 volunteers worked together to remove debris from a mile-long stretch of the Roanoke River between Vic Thomas Park and the low water bridge past Smith Park. The annual River Cleanup program was organized through a partnership between Roanoke Mountain Adventures and Roanoke Parks and Recreation. The group met at Roanoke Mountain Adventures and each volunteer was provided with garbage bags, gloves, and water. Some volunteers were shuttled upstream and cleaned the river in canoes, while others patrolled the shoreline on foot.
After three hours of hard work, volunteers had collected more than 60 full bags of trash and 20 tires. This year, the group discovered some interesting pieces of debris, including a bicycle, a lawn mower, old railroad parts and signs, clothing, lost shoes, wiring, large tarps, rubber mats, a metal crib frame, and even a Patrick Henry High School ID from 1999. Some of this waste could have made its way into the river during severe thunderstorms, high winds, or flooding. Other pieces of debris may have been discarded into the river or one of its tributaries years ago. Either way, the volunteers’ hard work helped remove hazardous materials and made the Roanoke River a safer and more beautiful outdoor recreational resource for locals who enjoy fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding in Roanoke.
Unfortunately, the majority of debris retrieved by volunteers was plastic or styrofoam. Although plastic and styrofoam will eventually break down into smaller pieces, it never completely degrades. Instead, it can be mistaken for food and is often ingested by birds, fish, turtles, snakes, salamanders, insects, and even small organisms, slowly damaging local ecosystems and making its way back into our food chain in the process. Consuming plastic is harmful to both animals and humans because it contains toxic chemicals, such as BPA, DDT, and PCB. Styrofoam and plastic are particularly harmful to small land and aquatic animals because it can fatally block their internal organs when ingested.
How You Can Help:
One easy way to help keep Roanoke’s rivers, streams, and parks clean, is to use sustainable alternatives to plastic and styrofoam. Instead of using plastic water bottles or styrofoam to-go beverage cups, fill a reusable bottle. Swap out plastic shopping bags for cloth sacks, and avoid using plastic food containers and forks at your next picnic in the park. Always discard waste in trash bins or pack it out with you and remember to pick up after your pet to prevent harmful bacteria from making its way into local rivers and streams. By simply reducing how much plastic and styrofoam you use each day, you’re already helping to keep Roanoke’s rivers and streams contaminant-free!
We’d like to thank Roanoke Mountain Adventures and all of the volunteers who helped us clean the Roanoke River this year! Here are some photos from Roanoke’s 2017 River Cleanup event: