A 14-year-old Eagle Scout candidate is organizing an effort to remove litter along the entire 50-mile stretch of Elk River in Clay County. He needs dozens of volunteers to show up and help make it happen.
“We need at least forty people. Fifty would be better,” says John Summers, who is coordinating this ambitious project. His vision is to get enough people on the river working together to accomplish the task in one day.
When asked why he chose this particular project John Summers replies simply, “It needs to be done.”
“This stuff just doesn’t belong here,” he says, referring to the discarded tires, appliances, and other miscellaneous trash that he has observed in and along the Elk River. “I’ve floated and fished on the Elk pretty much since I was old enough to hold a paddle. It’s a beautiful river, but we can make it look even better by removing the trash.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection website, West Virginia has as many as 15,000 open dumps. In our hilly terrain, much of this illegally dumped garbage washes into our rivers during rain events. Litter and trash are unsightly and portray a negative image.
“A lot of new people are coming to Clay County to boat on the Elk River or ride on the new Elk River Rail Trail, but if it looks trashy here many of them won’t come back. Clay County needs to do everything it can to put its best foot forward. I just want the river to be more pleasing to the eye for everyone who uses it,” Summers says.
The lanky teen has a confident, matter-of-fact approach to the project. However, it is no easy task to muster a large group of volunteers on a single day in rural West Virginia.
“As an Eagle Scout project, this one is a doozy. He needs a lot of help from volunteers to pull this off,” says Eric Lough, the assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 123 in Clay. “Of course our scout troop and families will be helping. Beyond that, he’s trying to get the word out any way that he can to as many people as he can”
John’s mother helped set up a Facebook event page (Elk River Cleanup) where volunteers can sign up for a particular section of the river. He is also contacting kayak clubs, volunteer groups, and other Boy Scout troops, as well as recruiting friends at church. He has divided the river into 4-5 mile sections. Volunteers are needed to float sections of the river and pick up any trash that they are able to carry in their boats.
“He is working with the state DEP on the project and they are providing us with gloves and bags for the trash removal. DEP will also take care of disposing of any trash that is removed from the river,” Lough adds. “We are all very appreciative of the assistance DEP has offered.”
There are also jobs for those who do not have boats or who may not be comfortable working from a boat. “We’re hoping to remove trash from some areas where people have just dumped their garbage in a pile along the road beside the river,” Summers says. “And we could use some help early in the day helping shuttle the people and boats that will be floating down the river so that their vehicles will be at the takeout waiting on them when they are finished with their section of the river.”
If you would like to volunteer or get more information you can text 304-880-0391 or call 304-644-8691. The cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, August 14.