I want to express a special thanks to Amanda for becoming a regular litter warrior with me. No question, it's disheartening to keep at this week after week, all the trash that finds its way onto the roadsides. The more hands there are to go after it, the quicker it gets done and we can get on with interesting or fun stuff. Today we had Rosita helping to speed the process; thanks, Rosita. We got two of the three sections of road all cleaned up. And by the way, we also clean out the recycling bin at Horner Forest Trail parking area. Hey, folks, those bins are for recyclables, not trash.
Does anybody need a lug wrench? That was our prize litter item today. Amanda and I covered the north end from Newby's Bridge Road to the Swift Creek bridge. The heavy rain of the past week flushed out litter that has been hiding, out of sight on previous cleanups. Such is usually the case when the ditches fill with rushing water.
Another day, another bag of litter, and the road, at least the north section, is once again presentable.
Two and a half years, that's how long I've been leading the volunteers who have helped with the Qualla Road litter cleanup. In that time, we've collected 167 bags of trash That's a pretty disheartening mental image. Nevertheless, it's the mental image of what the road would look like if we didn't clean it up that keeps me at it week after week. I turned to Wikipedia for a little more information about littering:
Litter can remain visible for extended periods of time before it eventually biodegrades, with some items made of condensed glass, styrofoam or plastic possibly remaining in the environment for over a million years.
About 18 percent of litter, usually traveling through stormwater systems, ends up in local streams, rivers, and waterways. Uncollected litter can accrete and flow into streams, local bays and estuaries. Litter in the ocean either washes up on beaches or collects in Ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. About 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources.
Some litter that is collected can be recycled, however degraded litter cannot be recycled and eventually degrades to sludge, often toxic. The majority of litter that is collected goes to landfills.
I don't know for how many years the Friends group has been participating in Clean Virginia Waterways, but I've been site captain now for three years, taking over for Joel Webber before me. We had a small turnout today, perhaps because the weather wasn't appealing. It was okay, though, no rain, just a now-and-then cool breeze. Still, the volunteers collected about five bags of litter. Our only watercraft cleanup members, the Keys, filled two bags and said they would be back for more. It's a never-ending task, but one that needs to be done. One of the volunteers took advantage of his litter scavenging walk to take photographs of birds and fungus. One of the advantages of doing this "work" as a volunteer is that we are free to work at our own pace and to allow ourselves to "stop and smell the roses".
A rainy afternoon, rare of late, is a welcome change from the rainless days that have meant carrying water to the gardens. My first involvement with the Pocahontas gardens came last year with the installation of the landscape plants in the Heritage Center parking median (now called the Native Plant Garden). New plants in a new garden meant carrying water throughout the summer dry spells. Last fall the Rain Garden was installed in front of the Nature Center. Fortunately, rain gardens are designed to be moist, so no watering has been required there.
This past summer we learned that there are two gardens at the front of the Aquatic Center. Water was not a problem there, but neglect certainly was. Also during the summer we learned that work is needed on the Heritage Center building and consequently the plantings there needed to be rescued. As we debated where they could go, we discovered that there is a landscape garden at the CCC field. It, too, has been neglected. Just recently it has come to our attention that there is yet another landscape garden, this one beside the CCC Museum building (photo above).
All of these gardens, and one at the Eco-Camp Dining Hall, were installed with volunteer labor and the best intentions for beautifying the park, but without a clear responsibility for maintenance. Volunteer positions at the park include Gardener because the park does not have funds to hire for that position. None of the park’s currently registered volunteers have offered to take the position, so the Gardening in the Park Meetup was created as a way to get a handle on the landscape gardens and bring attention to their plight. We can always use another pair of hands to keep after the weeds and help manage the plantings. Contact Andrea, our Volunteer Coordinator, if you would like to be involved but the Meetup doesn’t work with your schedule.
The Friends monthly business meeting is a place where not only the ongoing business of the group is planned and organized, but also a place where ideas for new activities are spawned. A lament, expressed openly in the meeting, about the accumulation of small trash items in the public areas, led to a discussion of park staffing and responsibilities, and then to the idea of a new volunteer activity to deal with the problem. Members Matt and Rachel were willing to accept the challenge, and so the Micro-Trash Meetup was created.
A ramble around the picnic and pavilion areas shows how successful this meetup has been. Where there were cigarette butts, bottle caps, bits of plastic, and so on and on, these are now rare. Those who contributed their time to this effort can be proud of their accomplishment. This activity also spawned another idea, to provide the park with cigarette butt receptacles. That idea was matched with an opportunity to obtain a grant for park beautification. The grant application to Keep Virginia Beautiful was approved, so we will soon have the receptacles available to the smokers who visit the park.
Helping the smokers keep the park clean is a small step, but the need for micro-trash volunteers continues in all seasons. Check on Meetup for an opportunity to help, or just bring along a bag on your next visit to the park and spend a few minutes picking up litter where you find it.
With the help and direction of Alan Shey, Chesterfield County Environmental Engineering, three of us dug into the demonstration rain garden at the Heritage Center, weeding, cleaning and mulching. The garden catches, filters and infiltrates run-off from the parking lots, while providing a focal point for attractive native wildflowers. Alan expects to do a little more work on it over the winter, but for now it is ready for its annual winter rest. The Landscape Gardening in the Park volunteers will be monitoring it to keep ahead of those pesky "winter annual weeds" that are always ready to take advantage of an idle garden. --Ben
I chatted a bit with a guy walking his dog on the Bright Hope Trail today. He recognized me as one of the volunteers working to remove wisteria, and he said he appreciated my efforts, admitting that it was not something he would care to do. Different strokes for different folks. Once in a while I'll get a "Thank you" when I'm working in the Native Plant Garden or the Rain Garden, so I know some people notice these things. It's not for everyone, puttering in a garden. People like to see at least some flower beds when they come to the park. What they may not know is that DCR State Parks doesn't have a big enough budget to support professional gardeners. Park staff depend on volunteers to make those flower beds presentable, and that provides an opportunity for those of us who do enjoy puttering in a garden to lend a hand. The need is there for more putterers, more hands. And the invitation to putter is out there on Meetup. If you are a garden putterer, I hope to see you in the garden at Pocahontas.
Our beautiful Swift Creek Lake, unfortunately, suffers from the downstream effects of common environmental pollutants. One of those pollutants is ordinary litter, brought down Swift Creek in runoff from the many streets, roads and suburbs in the upstream watershed. In observance of Earth Day, Pocahontas State Park and FoPSP hosted a lake cleanup, in which volunteers used the park's kayaks and canoes to go out in search of water-borne litter. The day started out cool but the weather was beautiful and the wildlife observations were bountiful. It was a fun event, good exercise in fresh air, and rewarding to cleanse the lake of at least a portion of the unsightly floating litter.
At each of the monthly Friends meetings there are a variety of decisions to be made. One of those decisions in January concerns the future of our Adopt A Highway permit. Three years ago one of our former officers obtained a permit to clean the roadsides of Qualla Road along and through Pocahontas from Spring Run Road on the south to Newby’s Bridge Road on the north. The permit expires in February. During the past year we have scheduled a few cleanups in Meetup, but the response has been negligible.
Some things to consider: Qualla Road has a lot of traffic, so there is quite a lot of litter and it is not pleasant working on the roadside with so many fast-travelling vehicles. We have the option of switching to a section of Woodpecker Road, where the litter and traffic are less but the road section length is more. Picking up litter on Qualla has a direct result of reducing the litter reaching Swift Creek, and the visual impact of cleaner roadsides is greater than on Woodpecker. Picking up along Woodpecker is less risky at more convenient hours due to the lower traffic and longer sight distances.
Is this an activity that members of Friends would like to see continued? We only have so much manpower, and the firewood activities are more critical to the mission of the group. If we switch to Woodpecker and schedule Saturday morning cleanups alternating with wood-splitting, would members be willing to participate? Post your thoughts here.