Thousands of volunteers clean up tons of trash for one clean river

Bethesda, Chevy Chase FORCE group creates skimmer to collect litter from Rock Creek all year long

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Volunteers gathered at the Meadowbrook Community Park in Chevy Chase last week to build a trash skimmer designed to snag debris as it floats down Rock Creek. (From left) Joni Edwards of Chevy Chase, Andreas Mones of Chevy Chase, project leader Julia Randall of Chevy Chase, Tom Beavers of Gaithersburg, Bob Allnut of Chevy Chase and Deirdre Curley of Chevy Chase installed the skimmer as part of the broader Potomac Watershed Cleanup held throughout the region Saturday.

Click here to enlarge this photo
Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Kevin Flynn, a volunteer with Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, installed a trash skimmer in the creek last week to catch garbage as it floats by.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in a massive spring cleaning of the Potomac River and its tributaries this past weekend.

‘‘There’s nothing more educational than going out and picking up trash and seeing what kind of trash is landing in our streams and fields,” said, Tracy Bowan, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation.

The Potomac Watershed Cleanup is an effort coordinated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an environmental group, to remove trash from the Potomac watershed and to raise awareness about keeping the river and watershed litter-free.

One of the newer volunteer groups participating in the clean up was the Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, also known as FORCE. The group spread out over nearly 20 sites along the 33-mile tributary of the Potomac River.

‘‘It’s like a spring facelift to the Rock Creek area,” said FORCE board member Julia Randall of Chevy Chase.

Randall was the site leader for a portion of the creek from the Mormon Temple down to the District line, setting up shop at Candy Cane Park in Chevy Chase. Walking the area with park staff, she came across bottles, lost basketballs, even an abandoned Red Cross stretcher.

Randall’s group, which consisted of volunteers from the Bethesda and Chevy Chase communities, got a head start on Saturday’s cleanup by building and installing a trash skimmer in the creek. Taking a cue from the Izaak Walton League in Tennessee, the group used a length of rope to string together plastic gallon jugs and recycled plastic fencing. The skimmer stretched across the creek to catch trash as it floats down the creek. Volunteers will maintain the device, Randall said.

‘‘I like this trash skimmer because it’s not after the fact,” Randall said. ‘‘It’s a preventive measure, and it’s cost effective.”

Unusual pollution
Bags and bottles aren’t the only things volunteers picked up out of streams and fields during last year’s clean up.
They also collected household appliances, auto and boating parts, electronics, food, furniture, toys, clothing, industrial and commercial materials, medical waste and more.
In previous years, volunteers found junk including a giant plastic hot dog, a Civil War-era sword and sheath, a velvet movie theater rope, a decaying pogo stick and $50 in Bosnian currency.
Here is a sampling of some of the more unusual items found this weekend:
Vending machine
Kabuki mask
Big, plastic gingerbread man
Two full IV bags
Freezer containing pigs feet
The Alice Ferguson Foundation works with hundreds of community and regional organizations and government agencies.

More than 3,454 volunteers joined the cleanup at 300 sites in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They removed more than 131 tons of trash.

There were 35 cleanup sites in Montgomery County, including sites in Glen Echo, Carderock, Potomac, Bethesda, Kensington and Chevy Chase.

The foundation has been coordinating the cleanup for 18 years, but this year there are a few new focuses.

‘‘We’re focusing on having people tabulate how many plastic bags they pick up and also to keep track of the three brand names found most,” Bowan said.

Coke, Pepsi, 7-11 and Budweiser were noted most often.

Finding out which companies are big polluters could help the organization determine where to focus its efforts.

Bowan said she would like to work with more businesses on anti-litter campaign and educating customers.

‘‘It’s important to start looking at our business community to start addressing this issue as well,” she said.

The organization is also promoting its goal of a trash free Potomac by 2013.

Randall sees Saturday’s cleanup as more than a one-day event. It’s more like the season opener for volunteering.

‘‘We’re hoping to enlist volunteers,” she said. ‘‘We’re hoping this will be open season.”

For more information about the Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, visit To learn about opportunities in Montgomery County’s parks, check the Park and Planning site at⁄team.