- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Volunteers will get together tomorrow morning to help clean the Potomac River and surrounding land, one of the country's largest watersheds, which stretches into Virginia, Maryland, the District, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Under the theme "From Our Streets to Our River," the 14th annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup will illustrate the detrimental effect of garbage on the Potomac River and its offshoots.
The focus this year is the removal of automobile tires.
"When you live south of Washington, D.C., you have a lot of incentive to get folks north of you to clean up their trash," said Tracy Bowen, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation. "We all live downriver, we all have something up north of us."
The Alice Ferguson Foundation is an Accokeek-based nonprofit educational organization that has coordinated the cleanup for the past 13 years.
Organizers of the task this year are confident they will draw 5,000 volunteers, which is 1,000 more than last year. They also will focus on 119 sites, compared with 110 last year.
"There is a direct correlation between the number of sites and volunteers and the amount of tonnage we pull out," said Michelle Radez, the foundation's cleanup coordinator this year.
Fairfax Stone in Garrett County, Md., is the source of the Potomac River, which stretches 383 miles, emptying into the Chesapeake Bay at St. Mary's County in Maryland and Northumberland, Va. Along the way, the river's tributaries reach into West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District all of which is considered the Potomac River Watershed.
The cleanup will take place at 10 sites in the District, eight of which still need volunteers, according to Rashaand Sass, a senior account executive at Infotech Strategies, a D.C. public relations agency that undertook the 14th annual event for free.
"Tire dumping is a huge issue," Mr. Sass said.
According to Matt Berres, the director of community action for the Potomac Conservancy, tires are extremely harmful to a river. Tires harm wildlife as they slowly break down and release toxins, and they are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. They also make the river appear unkempt, he said.
"Tires are connected to our cars, and they're a symbol of how a lot of people in the D.C. metropolitan area get around," Mr. Berres said, noting his agency has been involved in the cleanup since 1998.
"We, as individuals, are responsible for the health of the river through our daily actions. By making this land-water connection, we hope to stem some of the problems from litter at its source."
Last year, volunteers pulled 670 tires from the river, Mrs. Radez said. She predicts that figure will more than double this year.
Volunteers also will remove other items from the river.
The trash last year included electronic items such as computers and cell phones, she said. Volunteers also found an 1878 tombstone and a Civil War-era cannonball, which were donated to the Reston Historical Society.
A cigarette butt will biodegrade in 12 years and a 20 oz. plastic soda bottle in 450 years, but tires will not biodegrade, Mrs. Radez said.
The National Park Service and the Chesapeake Bay Trust will provide trash bags and gloves, among other items for the cleanup, organizers said.
Ms. Bowen said the cleanup is a valuable educational experience and cited as an example a year when large amounts of ribbon were tangled at the shorelines. That incident prompted her to stop using ribbons.
"Trash is an indicator about how a community feels about its community," Ms. Bowen said.
"It's an educational opportunity to learn what's landing on our shorelines and think about how we can change our activity to impact this."

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