- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dozens of volunteers took advantage of ideal spring weather yesterday to help clean up the Potomac River, one of the region’s most neglected and polluted waterways.

Volunteers for the Capital River Relief project, including more than 60 employees from the Department of the Interior and their families, shipped out from Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria, filling hundreds of bags with garbage strewn along the river.

“I’m originally from Maine, so I’m used to being out around nature,” said Emily Cuthbertson, 24, of the District, who joined three others from her former Massachusetts boarding school’s alumni association.

“I wouldn’t consider myself an environmentalist, but I care about the environment,” she said. “When I get the opportunity, I help out to keep nature as clean as possible.”

The annual cleanup project, now in its third year, began April 1 and will finish May 13. Last year, more than 5,000 volunteers removed almost 260 tons of trash from the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. The beautification project — spearheaded by Illinois-based Living Lands and Waters — is privately funded and relies solely upon volunteer help.

The project shifted focus toward the Potomac River yesterday after volunteers spent most of the month cleaning along the Anacostia. Four small boats carrying 12 volunteers each floated onto the river yesterday, dropping off volunteers at various points along the shore. For two three-hour shifts, volunteers hauled away bags of tires, tennis balls, syringes and other refuse discarded on the river’s shores and banks.

“We’ve found lots of balls, lots of plastic items, a fire extinguisher,” said Michelle Cangelosi, the executive director of Take Pride in America, a national partnership initiated by the Department of the Interior to increase volunteer service on public lands in the United States. “We even found a message in a bottle from 1993,” she said.

Muddy and wet volunteers returned to shore after their shifts, which they said were strenuous but gratifying.

“We’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while,” said Kathy Byers, an Interior Department employee who brought her two 12-year-old daughters, Lynnae and Kalyn. “We have to do our share.”

“We came to clean up the Earth,” Lynnae said.

Miss Byers, who recently moved to the region from Colorado, said she had never been out on the Potomac. She was cajoled to help by “budding environmentalist” Lynnae and her own urge to beautify the area.

“Washington, overall, is a pretty clean city, [but] there’s some highway areas where I’m tempted to just stop and pick trash up,” she said. “Here, you can see [results], and you can feel like you made a difference.”

The trash will be taken to a barge anchored near Hains Point, said Geoff Manis, the volunteer coordinator for Living Lands and Waters. It will then be taken to a waste-disposal site in Illinois.



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