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ON THE SCENE: Volunteers clean up AuSable River branches

From left are Susan Doolittle, Kathy Kernan, Peg Wilson and Marcy Neville. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The Ausable River Association moved its annual AuSable River cleanup from September to Saturday, April 24 this year, shifting the effort from Carpenter’s Flats near Keeseville.

They expanded the cleanup from near Carpenter’s Flats to the West Branch, from the ski jumps in Lake Placid to Lake Everest in Wilmington and on the East Branch, from the Keene town beach at Marcy Field to the covered bridge in Jay.

Making this expanded cleanup possible, they partnered with the Ausable Valley and Lake Placid Rotary Clubs, Adirondack Riverwalking, the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited and One Tree Planted. The date change allowed the event to coincide with Rotary International’s Great Lakes Watershed Cleanup.

People gathered to get their equipment and assignments at the Wilmington Town Beach at Lake Everest. By any measure, the cleanup was a success. Just over 100 volunteers collected about 2,000 pounds of garbage in a little over three hours. Unique items found included a ceramic toilet and a kitchen sink fished from the East Branch near Keene.

“We’re joining thousands of Rotary members across the country who volunteer each April to collect trash along and in our waterways each April on the same or a similar day,” said Tyler Merriam, donor outreach manager of the Ausable River Association. “We partnered with Rotary International and its local chapters to help spread the news about the event and help with coordination. Then several other local organizations wanted to join in and help out as well. They provided a lot of the merchandise and supported a lot of the supplies as well.”

Carrianne Pershyn (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Merriam said that winter trash builds up along the rivers and edges of the roads that parallel them. When the snow melts, the garbage appears. He said they want to clean all those items up, make the rivers as clean as healthy as possible, and make sure trash doesn’t get washed into the rivers. Ultimately, their goal is to create a clean and healthy AuSable River watershed. Merriam said they expected about 30 people and are thrilled that more than 90 registered.

“We’re very excited and humbled by the turnout,” said Merriam.

“Rotaries from about a quarter of the country participate in the Great Lakes Watershed Cleanup,” said Sarah Chase, president of the Ausable Valley Rotary Club, which encompasses the communities Keeseville through Keene. “An Ontario Rotary Club, located near the junction of the lakes Erie and Ontario, launched the cleanup and has spread from there.”

Together, the Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the fresh water in the world. Adding in the many rivers and lakes that feed into the lakes, the total is even greater. Rotary International’s goal is to make this annual event the single largest watershed cleanup event ever planned. The effort brings together volunteers from eight states and two provinces. The lakes alone contain 9,577 miles (15,323 kilometers) of shoreline. Thus far, 15 Districts, hundreds of clubs and thousands of Rotary and aligned volunteers agreed to participate in the 2021 cleanup.

“I think a big part of the reason we live in the Adirondacks is the natural beauty,” added Chase. “All of the animals, fish and plants depend on the rivers and their lakes and tributaries. I used to live near the covered bridge. Where was I on a hot summer day? Swimming in the river beneath the bridge. I count on it to cool me down, keep the area beautiful. The Adirondacks wouldn’t be what they are without their beautiful bodies of water.”

Melissa LaVallee and her daughter Avry (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Adirondack Riverwalking is an organization whose purpose is to deepen people’s connection to nature and help them experience the natural environment’s health and well-being benefits. They began partnering with the Ausable River Association several years ago as a way of giving back to and helping protect the rivers.

The Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited was represented by Bob Hudak, of Saranac Lake. “I guess civic responsibility brought me here today,” said Hudak. “I’m a fly fisherman and a member of Trout Unlimited. I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I love the out-of-doors. I came out because I want to do my part in protecting this valuable resource. It’s unfortunate that many people don’t respect the natural environment that we have. It’s not just a visual thing; there are some real environmental issues that go along with it.”

In Keene, Trout Unlimited has provided vital help in riverbank restoration through assistance with critical funding and planning. They used natural resources to help bring back sections of the river that had been damaged by flooding over the years, flooding made worse by past efforts to control the river.

“The local Rotary Clubs and the Ausable River Association deserve a lot of credit for the outstanding turnout and organization of the cleanup,” said Hudak.

Among the volunteers were Susan Doolittle, Kathy Kernan, Marcy Neville and Peg Wilson of Keene Valley.

Dan and Susie Runyon (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“We came out to be a part of Earth Week and because this is a good thing to do with a group,” said Kernan. “I’ve done cleanup on the road before, so expanding out to the river was a natural. I’m just glad that we had sunny weather than the snow like last weekend. What a difference a week makes. Incredible. But it’s great to be doing this and doing it with friends.”

Other volunteers were Melissa LaVallee and her daughter Avry, 15.

“While my mom brought me here, I came because we live just down the road, and we both wanted to help clean up,” Avry said. “I want the river to be clean. I like swimming in the river and fishing, too.”

At day’s end, Merriam said they received lots of positive feedback and suggestions for increasing participation and the amount collected in the future. He said they separated and recycled everything they could.

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Tyler Merriam (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)