The Smith River looks much better following a massive cleanup Saturday, but it still is not perfect, a Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) official said.
More than 200 volunteers removed garbage and other discarded items from a 30-mile stretch of the river, its banks and nearby roads. Items ranged from plastic bottles and other household materials to bulky items such as a couch, a water heater, more than 300 tires and even some hobby horses, according to DRBA Program Manager Brian Williams.
It was the largest cleanup of the river ever attempted, said DRBA Executive Director Tiffany Haworth.
But the volunteers could not get up all the junk.
“There’s still some stuff in the river” and along it, including tires and metal cans buried deep in the sand, and those items will have to be pursued in the future, Williams said.
Saturday night, he had not yet taken stock of all of the waste, so he was not aware of everything it included.
He said he will not know how many tons of garbage were removed until it is taken to a landfill this week.
The cleanup focused on the stretch of the Smith River from Philpott Lake to the Mitchell Bridge near Ridgeway. That is the part that the Smith River Chapter of Trout Unlimited recently took on as part of the Adopt-A-Stream program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Other participants in the cleanup included Henry County and the Gateway Streetscape Foundation.
Some of the volunteers used kayaks and canoes to reach garbage in the river. Some waded in the water, and others walked along shore.
Volunteers included area Scouting and church groups as well as “kids of all ages,” Williams said.
Some came from outside Henry County and Martinsville. Williams said many were people who often visit the area and go fishing for trout along the river.
Mike Reed came from Reidsville, N.C.
“Whenever I get a day off (from work),” Reed said, “I like to come out and do something (at the river).”
He said he likes the Smith River because “it’s very nice and cool,” especially where water comes out under Philpott Dam.
But when he visited the river recently, “I was amazed at how much trash I was seeing,” Reed said. It needed to be cleaned up, he added.
Williams said that the worst stretch of the river, without a doubt, is the one between Fieldale and Koehler. He said water in that stretch, which is behind Martinsville’s hydrodam, gets backed up, so garbage in it sticks around.
Before the cleanup, more than 100 tires already were collected from near the Fieldale Bridge, but at least 50 more were to be removed Saturday, said Williams. He said the tires are being stockpiled behind the former Fieldcrest Cannon plant, and tire manufacturer Bridgestone will help get rid of them.
Some unidentified people pursued cleaning up the portion of the river near the Smith River Sports Complex on their own recently.
Williams said he took someone there to see some metal scaffolding that needed removing. When they arrived, “three guys and a girl” already were there, removing the metal and dragging it to a canoe ramp.
He said they told him, “we are getting a head start (on the cleanup) so we can take this (metal) to the recycle place!”
He recalled telling them, “Rock on!”
Now that the river is cleaner, DRBA wants to educate people on why they should not dump trash into it.
In addition to the garbage being unsightly, “this is our drinking water,” Williams emphasized.
The problem is not just people throwing stuff directly into the river, Haworth noted. It also is litterers. Over time, rain washes litter into the river, no matter how close or far away from the Smith it was tossed, she said.
Many people who litter or dump things into the river do not realize they are causing problems, and they must be educated, she and Williams indicated.
Williams surmised the river overall is as clean “as it’s ever been,” especially now that some industries that once dumped chemicals into it no longer are doing so.
In the future, “it can be as clean as any river in the country,” he said, but first, “we need societal norms (on littering) to change.”