What do you expect to find if you take a hike at a local park or near a stream? You probably don't expect to find a typewriter, toilet or catalytic converter hidden among the fallen leaves. But that is exactly what local volunteers found at the 25th annual Conasauga River Watershed Cleanup on Saturday, Oct. 19. That day, 252 volunteers gathered across Whitfield and Murray counties and removed 4.6 tons of trash from the local watershed.
Sites included in this year's event included the Conasauga River at Highway 2 Bridge, at Carlton Petty Road Bridge and at Lower Kings/Norton Bridge. Other cleanup sites were Holly Creek in Murray County on the Chattahoochee National Forest, a Mill Creek tributary in Dalton, Coahulla Creek at Prater's Mill, Lakeshore Park and Al Rollins Park in Dalton. Whitfield County 4-H and Dalton State College volunteers carried out a "rolling cleanup" that started at Prater's Mill and continued on to McGaughey Chapel Bridge, Cohutta-Beaverdale Bridge and the Hopewell Bridge. U.S. Forest Service employees from the Conasauga Ranger District cleaned up sites on Sumac and Rock Creeks on the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Garbage found at each site was the result of illegal dumping, irresponsible abandonment after using a site or accidental loss of items from a vehicle with an unsecured load. Event participants encourage the public to pick up litter when they see it; properly secure loads on vehicles; take out what they take in at outdoor recreation areas; and properly dispose of tires and bulky items at an approved drop-off location.
The Conasauga River, one of the six most biologically diverse freshwater river systems in the United States, supports 24 endangered species and a dozen other imperiled species, including the Southern pigtoe mussel and the Conasauga logperch, a fish found nowhere else in the world.
This cleanup has been occurring over the past 25 years as a way to help protect the Conasauga and the unique species that live in it. If the litter had not been picked up by volunteers throughout the years, rain and wind would have carried the litter into streams, then the Conasauga and eventually the ocean. But, through the efforts of 6,341 volunteers over the past 25 years, 137 tons (or 274,000 pounds!) has been picked up and properly disposed of instead of letting it dirty our naturally beautiful waterways.
These sponsors provided the funds needed to purchase cleanup supplies, special 25th year commemorative T-shirts and 2020 calendars featuring photographs of the Conasauga for volunteers who hauled off the garbage: Shaw Industries, Engineered Floors, Trinseo, Dalton Utilities, Conasauga River Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Georgia's Rivers Alive, Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority, Dalton Public Works and Whitfield County Public Works.
Also, these organizations helped coordinate the event: Dalton State College, Dalton Utilities, Keep Chatsworth-Murray Beautiful, Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful, Limestone Valley RC&D, the U.S. Forest Service, United Way and Whitfield and Murray County Extension and 4-H groups.
The Conasauga River Watershed Cleanup has long been a participant of Rivers Alive, one of the South's largest volunteer efforts to beautify water resources. In 2019, 5,486 volunteers have participated in 107 cleanup events throughout the state and have removed 281,746 pounds of garbage from 710 miles of Georgia waterways.
For more information about efforts in other areas or the statewide campaign, visit riversalive.georgia.gov.