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Gray skies and the threat of stormy weather may have contributed to a low turnout at this year's Third Annual Suwannee River Cleanup Saturday, but participants, working out of canoes, kayaks and boats, were still able to fill the bottom of a 2-cubic-yard dumpster with trash pulled from the river's muddy banks.
About 35 people showed up, less than half of the 85 who participated last year.
“It's really worthwhile," said second-year participant and Cedar Key resident Janet Blackwell about the event, organized each year by Pure Water Wilderness "It's a shame there weren't as many people this year. If you have a lot of people, you have an impact."
Blackwell, accompanied by her niece, Rosalie, picked up trash from Suwannee Gables Motel to Hinton Landing—one of three stretches cleaned along 12 miles of the river.
She said the rain only drizzled and the air was cool, though the skies looked "ominous" and occasional lightning flashes had her concerned at times. Still, the debris-collecting duo, working out of a canoe, managed to fill five large bags full of trash and also removed a tire, a large block of styrofoam and chairs.
“It just builds up and doesn't go anywhere, so you have to clean it up ... because there are a bunch of pigs who throw garbage from their boats," she said.
Annette Long, chairperson for Save Our Suwannee Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the river, said most of the trash collected consists of beer bottles and cans. Although, a lot of the trash on the banks and in the river itself comes from the yards and homes of people living along the river. When the river floods and then recedes, she explained, it often carries away objects on people's property.
"Be careful about where you live," is the message people should take away.
Long, who wore a wet suit and worked out of a kayak Saturday, said it was her first time participating in the event, though she's been to the river many times in an effort to remove trash.
In the past, she said she has helped remove items such as car batteries and Bob's Barricades. Once, she even helped remove a washing machine.
"I took a serious effort to get it out. It's amazing somebody took the effort to get it in."
Saturday, after admitting to flipping her Kayak several times, Long said she was able to pull a tire, bags full of bottles, chairs, chunks of foam and zippered boat windows made of fabric from the banks.
"There's still two of three things I want to go back for," she said.
Long said events such as the one on Saturday are important to keep people in touch with the environment.
"It focuses people's attention on the river. It lets people know how important the river is to tourism. Who wants people to come from abroad and see a garbage slide?"
She said the event allows people to feel that they are having a direct impact by giving them something they can "get their hands on."
"My applause to those who go out and pick up trash."