For five days of their spring break, 22 Geneseo students and one alumnus joined forces with students from around the country to clean the garbage-ridden Ohio Riverbed.
The students volunteered for the Alternative Spring Break program of Living Lands and Waters, a not-for-profit environmental organization that stages land and riverbed restoration projects across the country. The 59 volunteers came from Iowa State University, Finger Lakes Community College, Hobart College, Geneseo and Wayne State University and worked side-by-side with the LLW crewmembers including founder, Chad Pregracke.
The Ohio River is believed to be one of the most polluted waterways in the United States, containing millions of pounds of agricultural and industrial pollutants, as well as tons upon tons of solid waste.
The volunteers worked in motorboats on the river as well as on the surrounding floodplains where much of the waste is deposited when the water level recedes. The 15 tons of trash they collected ranged from bottles, tires and refrigerators to 55-gallon drums of chemicals, which were transported to LLW's barge to be sorted and recycled when possible.
"It's something that not many people are aware of, but it's a huge problem," explained Geneseo sophomore Lindsay Gips. "The more people involved the better. This trip made me realize that even though we were a small group, we were able to make a big difference."
The group's motivation and passion came from many different sources. For Iowa State senior, Josh Sevcik it was personal: "Last year Alternative Spring Break came to my hometown, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help with the flood aftermath. This year I went to give back to the program."
While the amount of garbage in the river may seem insurmountable, the efforts of organizations like LLW prevent the trash from accumulating while simultaneously raising awareness of the issue. "It's very tangible," said Geneseo alumnus Henry Adams. "You can see the difference we make, and the positive attitude of the crew is amazing." It was Adams' third year involved with the program.
LLW's quest has been showcased in numerous news stories and books, and will soon be featured on the Discovery Channel. The hope is that by showing the public how large of a problem this is, knowledge will work as a preventative measure, encouraging people to use proper disposal methods rather than using the river as a dumping site. Cleaning up the aftermath is only half of the battle.
Many of the volunteers said they plan on returning next year. According to Geneseo sophomore Bridget Hardiman, the reason was simple: "We only have one world," she said. "This is my home and I'd like it to be clean."
For more information on LLW and its programs, visit livinglandsandwaters.org.