Guest post by Denise Hurt is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series spotlighting the Merrimack River.
There is nothing better than viewing the world from the seat of a kayak. Take me away from the worries and concerns of the work day, put me on a river, and I’ll go from stress-creased-forehead mode to smile-lines-on-my-cheeks mode in about three paddle strokes. Spring, summer or fall, farmland, countryside or city scape, the Merrimack is a river with so many different personalities I can always find one to fit my mood-du-jour. Whether it’s a bright, sunny day or a crisp, foggy morning, it is one of the places that can turn things around for me. And it’s a river that has had a turnaround of its own.
Back in the 1970’s, the Merrimack River made the Top Ten List of the most polluted rivers in the country. Today it is considered a Class B waterway – suitable for swimming, boating, and fishing. The water quality improved so much because people came together to make it happen. People cared.
Building upon that progress, in 2013, the New Hampshire Appalachian Mountain Club paddler group started a Trash Patrol paddle series running on the first Saturday of every month from May to October. The Merrimack River Watershed Council has been a partner with the program from its inception. To date, we’ve removed over 6000 pieces of trash and recyclable items from our local rivers. You’ll find us out on the Merrimack River three times this year with crates strapped to the decks of our kayaks and canoes acting as trash barges.
It’s amazing what we pull out of the river – plastic bottles, aluminum cans and lots and lots of tennis balls, but also larger items like tires, construction debris, extension ladders, lawn ornaments, and furniture of all types. It’s become a tradition to see who will find the most unusual item. Someone even turned up with a beaver skull once which now resides in a friend’s biology classroom at Lowell Regional Technical High School.
The mighty Merrimack benefits from such excursions for sure. The biggest impact, however, is on the paddlers who take part in the program. They always leave a little tired, but with the biggest grins – feelin’ good. They’ll never look at a plastic water bottle drifting in the current quite the same way. In fact, they’ll probably go out of their way to paddle on over and throw it in their boat. This is their river and they’ll keep it clean. It’s an awareness thing.
At the end of the day, we’ve spent a lovely morning on the water with great blue heron, turtles, hawks and eagles, and have worked together to make the river a little bit cleaner for these beautiful creatures than it was when we came.
If you’d like to join one of these paddles, you can register at www.outdoors.org. But you don’t have to wait for an organized event! Next time you’re on the Merrimack River or another of your favorites, paddle on over to that beer can and pick it up! Maybe someone will see you and they’ll do the same, and before you know it we’ve got a movement going!