Volunteers wrestle 92 tires off Rivanna bottom
BY CHRISTINA DIMEO GUSEMAN, CORRESPONDENT
While kayaking down the Rivanna River, Lake Monticello residents Patricia Burkett and John Wilkinson made a startling discovery – the bottom of the sparking river was littered with old tires.
As members of the Rivanna Conservation Society’s River Guardians program,Burkett and Wilkinson were doing what’s called a “litter float” by picking up trash as they kayaked. But the sight of all those tires made them realize that the Rivanna’s litter problem was more serious than they had realized.
They decided to do something about it. “It was the perfect time to do it,” Burkett said, “because the river is relatively low and the water is warm.” Such a clean-up effort could never happen in the winter, when the water is too cold. So they got in touch with Dave Smith, the River Guardian coordinator, and together they held tire clean-up events on Aug. 6 and Aug. 20.
Cleaning tires out of the Rivanna is easier said than done. It’s not merely a matter of picking a tire up off the bottom of the river, Burkett said. “You have to actually get in the water with shovels and hoes,” she explained. The tires have nestled down deep into the river bottom, so workers have to shovel away the gravel that’s settled on top – and under two or three feet of water, to boot. “Once you get the shovel under it you try to pry it up so you can get a grip on it,” Burkett said. “You get wet, and down and dirty and tired.”
The first time they went out they towed two canoes behind their kayaks and overloaded them with 32 tires. So the next time they got more folks – and canoes – involved, and were able to pry an additional 60 tires off the bottom of the river.
“Unfortunately, there were still tires left,” Burkett said. “We couldn’t take any more on the canoes.”
So who is dumping tires in the Rivanna? In the old days, Smith said, some tire companies along the river would store old tires in lowlands. So when a storm came, the tires would wash right into the river. “I guess some are thrown in on purpose these days,” he said, “but I bet a lot are tossed along the river and get washed in during storms.”
Smith explained that many of the tires group together in “tire fields” along the flat, sandy stretches of the river. “Looking on the banks there’s no obvious place where you see these tire fields could be coming from,” he said. “Maybe people dump them at the boat put-ins and they just get washed downstream and get stuck where the river is shallow and slows down.”
A look at the recovered tires reveals that some of them are indeed fairly old. “Two of the tires we got out had large white walls on them,” Smith said. “They haven’t made those tires for ages. They probably came from a really old Cadillac.”
Disposing of tires properly is expen- sive, which could be why people dump them in the river instead. In fact, recycling the tires picked up during the clean-up would have cost around $1,400. The River Guardians were grateful, then, when Van der Linde Recycling in Troy agreed to recycle the tires at their own expense. “They’re providing us quite a service,” Burkett said.
River Guardians like Burkett and Wilkinson keep busy with more than just tire clean-up. Those who volunteer for this program collect and analyze water samples, document fish populations, conduct river restoration projects, and collect and dispose of trash in an effort to protect the river and the watershed. To learn more about this program, call 434- 497-RIVER or visit www.rivannariver.org.
It won’t be long before the River Guardians are back in the water trying to wrestle up the approximately 50 tires that still remain on the river bottom, mostly between Camp Friendship and Sandy Beach. In spreading the word about the program, Burkett hopes that people will be spurred to take care of the river, and realize, as she said, “what a gem they have out there.”
Reproduced with permission. Fluvanna Review August 28- September 3, 2014