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The 5th Annual Great Suwannee River Cleanup is fast approaching, and representatives with the organizations involved want people to come out and get involved.
The cleanup, which has seen the removal of about 80,000 pounds of trash and debris from the river since 2010, consists of small cleanups during a three-month window from September through November. The year's first cleanup kicks off Saturday, Sept. 27, at 9 a.m., at the Joe Anderson Boat Ramp in Chiefland.
Fritzi Olson, executive director of Current Problems Inc., the group organizing a portion of the project, said keeping the river clean is important for reason's such as aesthetic beauty, tourism and safety. And it brings the community together, she said.
"People think of it as their river," she said, and when they're on it, experiencing nature, they don't want to be "distracted if you get a bunch of trash."
Year after year, the cleanup effort has collected less trash, a sign, according to Olson, that the project is having an effect. Volunteers, 1,700 in total, have pulled out tires, bottles, cans, refrigerators, car batteries and every manner of yard ornament that may have been carried away at some point by floodwaters that have inundated the yards of people living along the Suwannee. "It's bizarre," Olson said, adding that volunteers near Hart Springs found a half buried truck in the river bottom a couple of years ago. "There's just all kinds of stuff, really."
Chiefland cave diver and springs advocate Mark Long agreed. Long, in years past, has participated in several dive cleanups along the river. "It's too bad we can't do more of them (cleanups)," he said. "There is so much stuff.
"The oddest thing I ever found was a wheelchair. Good thing grandpa wasn't attached to the end."
And this year's cleanup could reveal even more trash, according to Olson. Recent flooding along the river may prove to have carried more stuff from people's yards and property. "It's hard to predict," she said, adding that cleanup crews would find out when they get on the river this year.
Current Problems is encouraging volunteers — individuals and groups — to sign up for cleanups on other rivers in the Suwannee Basin, such as the Withlacoochee and Santa Fe rivers, as well. And the group needs help in identifying "hot spots" that may need special attention.
The organization is looking for sponsors, too.
"It takes a lot of money to conduct the event," a press release stated. "Perhaps this is how you can be part of the cleanup. Or maybe you could offer to bring your power boat or a trailer full of canoes to help out."
To sign up for a particular section of the river, visit the cleanup's website link at tinyurl.com/o28yz69. To become a sponsor or for more information, email Olson at email@example.com, or give her a call at 352-215-7554.