Helping to keep the waters clean

Guest perspective/Randy Randall

On Randy’s sojourns, which generally take place only several feet from shore, he picks up any trash he sees. Photo courtesy Randy Randall

“Hey Dad,” Jeremy yelled. “Looks like you hit the jackpot! What is all this stuff?” He was right. I’d practically filled the front of my kayak with trash. “Help me unload all this,” I told him. But you see collecting trash is kind of a game with me. Let me explain. There’s an amazing amount of trash that collects along the riverbanks. Where it all comes from is a mystery – everything from old tires to a single flip-flop to a fuzzy yellow tennis ball. There are lots of tennis balls. I have this vision of a nice home further upstream with a tennis court near the river and the players keep hitting balls over the fence out into the water. Who knows?

Those of us who work and recreate here on the Saco River recognize that trash is a problem. The local Saco Salmon Club sponsors a clean-up day every summer when teams of paddlers scour the riverbanks and pick up everything that doesn’t belong there. Some years ago the Saco Coastal Waters Commission held a river clean-up day. Everyone signed up to patrol a section. Our marina staff filled so many black trash bags they overflowed the harbormaster’s boat. Many years ago we helped our sons clean the beach as they earned the Scout World Conservation award, what they called the Purple Panda badge. People know trash is a problem and every so often some organization will rise to the challenge, but I work on a much smaller scale. I use my kayak. I enjoy paddling up and down the river and out into the bay and I tend to hug the shoreline. The current is not so strong there, and if I were to capsize, I think I’d be able to stand up and wade ashore.

However, paddling close to the shore also reveals all the floating trash. Powerboats rushing by out in the channel only throw up a wake and never see the soda cans, coffee cups, water bottles, life jackets, boat fenders and plastic bags that fetch up in the reeds. But I see them and cannot just leave them there. What kind of stewardship would that be? So I make a game out of collecting the junk. Actually, this little habit forces me to practice my paddling skills. What with all the backing and filling and turning to chase down a wayward beer bottle I probably double my actual mileage. I plod along, always with a canny eye toward the reeds and grasses. Pieces of trash stand out like beacons in the sand and the grass. Sometimes I drive the boat onto shore so I can reach a beer can that’s stranded on the mud. Some days I nearly fill the kayak. We scoop up the assorted flotsam from the morning trip and deposit it in the dumpster. On the powerboat I have a white plastic bucket and a landing net. When we see something floating in the channel I’ll slow down or turn and we’ll net the trash.

We live in a beautiful place. Whether you live beside a pond or a stream or the beach or a park, on an island or along a trail, the Maine outdoors is beautiful and our trash does not belong there. So we pick it up when we find it. I urge everyone else to do the same. Pick it up, take it home, and throw it in the recycle bins. It makes a difference.