If you’re paddling down the Catawba River and trash is obstructing the scenery, there will soon be an app for that.
River conservationists and advocates whose mission it is to keep the river free of debris are tapping into technology to clean it up. Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins hopes a new smart phone app will help locate littered areas of the river and Lake Wylie, he said.
“We have a lot of people who care about the river,” Perkins said.
One feature of the app, which is still in the development stage, is a trash logger that could help clean-up crews find areas of trash, he said, by tapping into a database.
Clean-up crews, surprisingly, have noticed a drop in the amount of litter they are picking up, Perkins said.
“We know that we get less trash per person, per year,” he said.
The river has seen record-breaking recreational use in less than a decade, according to York County recreation and tourism leaders. They say it started when people “rediscovered” the natural resource that supplies our drinking water and flows 30 miles through York, Chester and Lancaster counties —and courses 200 miles through the Carolinas.
Even with more development along the shores of the river and more recreation usage, people are littering less, Perkins added.
“I think there is better awareness at this point,” he said. “A silver lining of heavy development is, you have eyes on the area.”
What people are finding along the river, Perkins said, is decades-old “legacy” trash.
New development has helped uncover some of the garbage people dumped in the 1950s and ‘60s in remote areas, Perkins said, including old bottles and cans.
With clean-up efforts, less of the old trash is replenishing, he said.
“We are chipping away at the legacy trash,” Perkins added.
And while some modern-day litter bugs recreating at the river leave behind picnic debris, groups of volunteers that set out for a morning of trash pick-up during “riversweeps” are dragging in thousands of pounds of litter.
“Last year was a banner year for our trash collection,” said Emilee Syrewicze, executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, which is a sponsor of the annual Lake Wylie Riversweep. “You name it, we’ve seen it.”
Volunteers pick up common items like cans, bottles, food containers, bags, picnic items and tires, along with not-so-common things like shopping carts, lawn mowers, a man’s formal suit, toilets, a complete bed and a Mitt Romney political sign.
More than 1,000 riversweepers last year hauled in 53,000 pounds of trash at the event, Perkins said. This year’s event will be Saturday, Oct. 7.
Chris Oswald of the Sun City Carolina Lakes Canoe and Kayak Club in Indian Land will take about two dozen volunteers on the annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep, sponsored by the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The event takes place Saturday, Sept. 16.
During the statewide 2016 sweep, 4,750 people helped remove about 43 tons of trash from South Carolina waterways, said Bill Marshall, program manager for river conservation at the SCDNR.
In York and Lancaster counties, dozens of volunteers picked up more than 500 pounds of trash along three miles of the river and collected 50 bags of trash, according to the SCDNR’s report of the 2016 event.
“They feel as though they have done something meaningful,” Oswald said about the volunteers, who are all residents of the retirement community. “At the end of the day, you are filthy, but everybody has a very positive feeling.”
Riversweepers will take their trash bags to the water again on Oct. 7 for the SCDNR event.
Syrewicze said that while people can impact a natural environment, “recreating responsibly and mitigating the negative impacts of human activity on the water is our primary goal.”
Tracy Kimball: 803-329-4087