Patuxent River Cleanup, MD

About 18 or so of us, gathered on the banks of Patuxent River the Saturday following Earth Day to cleanup a dumpsite which had probably been 4 decades in the making. The trash we hauled out included 3/4 of a mid-fifties Oldsmobile; a couple of water heaters; some stoves; refrigerators and rusting hunks of metal which could no longer be identified; two dozen acetylene bottles, a couple dozen tires; an outside metal bar sign; a toilet; parts of a garage door and several bags of indeterminate trash. I think we truly did pull everything but the kitchen sink. We filled a rollback dumpster with just metal.

and everyone provided labor…lots of labor.

Equipment used included two winch-equipped vehicles; several pickup trucks and a gas powered metal-cutting saw. People represented Capital Off Road Enthusiasts; Chesapeake Paddlers Association (www.cpakayaker.com); Greater Baltimore Canoe Club (www.baltimorecanoeclub.org); Maryland Conservation Corps (www.dnr.state.md.us/mcc); Patuxent Greenways LLC; and the Patuxent Riverkeeper (www.paxriverkeeper.org)

We set our day to begin at 9:00 with good intentions of working until 2:00 with time for the paddlers to hit the water. We ran a bit long, with many of us not leaving until after 4:00. I don’t think anyone had the strength left to paddle afterwards.

As we left the pavement, we split into two groups with one headed after the bottles in a tributary stream. The others headed over to the main site we had scoped before. We determined quickly that the winch on the Jeep would be needed to get most stuff up the steep bank. Bob set up at the top of the bank and started feeding out cable while others began staging the trash near the bottom of his line. The work proceeded that way for quite a while with occasional breaks to let the winch cool and the batteries (electrical and human) recharge. Workers would pile at the bottom of the hill in a central location. The winch crew would haul it up and stack it at the top of the hill. One of the trucks would get loaded and driven out to the rollback. Over and over.

The “lunch lady” met us at the rollback around noon and pondered whether her Subaru Outback would be able to come to the cleanup site. Finally it was decided that now was the time to find out as she had a contingent of four wheel drives and their recovery gear to help if needed. So lunch was delivered without a strap or hitch. And it was appreciated. We needed time for rest and nourishment. A couple of the park rangers dropped by to check our progress and take a few pictures. They also ogled the winch on Bob’s Rubicon while they were there.

After lunch, it was back to work. Stage at the bottom, winch it up the hill, stage it at the top, load it in the truck, haul it out. Around 1:30 or so, we decided we had done about as much as we were going to be able to do. One car hulk remained untouched, the other was 75% in the dumpster. The before and after pictures were set to be amazing. So we hauled the rest of what was staged to the top of the hill and started ferrying workers and tools and trash out to the pavement.

The Patuxent River is the longest river contiguously located within the borders of the state of Maryland. Its waters feed directly into the Chesapeake Bay on the US East Coast. The Patuxent River drainage area covers 930 square miles overall and runs north to south for 110 linear miles through seven Maryland counties, terminating at the Chesapeake Bay. The Patuxent is the longest and deepest intrastate river in Maryland, ranging from ankle wading depths, down to more than 180 feet.

Each year, the Patuxent Riverkeeper organizes cleanups of the river and banks using volunteer labor from local water sports clubs. One particular spot had been skipped in the past because the trash which collected there was bulky metal objects which exceeded their capability to float out and the bank was steep to haul trash and inaccessible to approach from the landside. We have four wheel drives with winches, folks. Steep and inaccessible means something entirely different to us. So in 2007, one of my coworkers (who happened to notice the Voice on my desk and the Blazer in the tall part of the garage) approached me about possibly helping them cleanup one year. He mentioned an abandoned car hulk and a couple of discarded hot water heater tanks. Apparently he missed a few things.

In order to gain access to the site, we needed to cross over land whose ownership was unclear. He first approached Anne Arundel County who indicated that they didn’t want the four wheel drives going across and potentially damaging the membrane covering the abandoned gravel pit or landfill or whatever had previously been there. So we let it go…sort of. Further investigation revealed that the area we needed to cross was not the old gravel pit/landfill so the ownership was in question. Eventually, they managed to get a manager in Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks (www.aacounty.org/recparks) to walk the route with us and determine that the property was indeed their land and didn’t involve the landfill. Finally, it had only taken two years to get approval to clean it up!

We gathered the forces. Greater Baltimore Canoe Club, Maryland Conservation Corps, Chesapeake Paddlers Association, Patuxent Riverkeepers and CORE set a date of April 25. AA Recreation and Parks arranged for a dumpster at the edge of the pavement. The canoes and paddlers agreed to provide lunch. CORE agreed to provide trucks and vehicles with winches. The Riverkeeper provided a gas-powered saw with operator and everyone provided labor…lots of labor.

Trail report written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman and Mike Vincenty.

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