A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

River Sweep 2020: 88 degrees, mud and masks; cleanup’s 30 volunteers cleared 3.19 tons

Compared to the festival-like atmosphere of pre-pandemic cleanups, River Sweep 2020 was a tightly controlled, well-orchestrated, and almost choreographed event.

Volunteer Kate Lawrence hoists a road construction cone. (Photo provided)

But if the volunteer army was (intentionally) small, the mission and the commitment were just as strong: Three teams of 10 “recruits” spread out along the banks of the Ohio River in Covington for three hours Saturday morning, wearing masks and braving the heat and mud to pick up trash and debris left by floodwaters and visitors between the Licking River and the Brent Spence Bridge.

When it was over, the volunteers had filled a 30-cubic-yard construction Dumpster from Rumpke Waste & Recycling with 3.19 tons of debris, not counting extra bags of cans and plastic bottles set aside to be recycled.

“We took a challenging riverfront that looked twice as ‘bad’ as last year and – with just 30 people – almost filled up a 30-yard bin,” said Jen Barnett, president of Keep Covington Beautiful and one of the three “site leaders” in charge of the teams. “We really killed it.”

Volunteers Matt Smith and Courtney Maynard pick up trash just east of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.

Thanks to the volunteers, the riverbank along the Ohio River is now free of a wide assortment of items: tires, rusted rims, a wheelchair tire, broken buckets, old blankets and clothes, a large roll of house “wrap” that apparently had blown off a truck on the bridge and fell into the trees below, road construction cones, and dozens and dozen of large trash bags full of anything that floats: bottles, cans, jugs, tobacco dip containers, cigar filters, plastic grocery bags, and Styrofoam chunks.

Many of the larger items were mired in sand or muck and had to be freed using shovels, a pick and rakes, Barnett said.
“We were unearthing things like archaeologists,” she said.

Sheila Fields, another site leader who is the City’s Solid Waste & Recycling Coordinator, said the event exceeded expectations, given the limitations of COVID-19.

“A lot of this stuff was heavy and difficult to carry up the hills,” Fields said. “I really appreciate how much these volunteers love this city.”

Volunteer Brandon Mims with yet another filled bag.

Restricted by pandemic

Pre-pandemic River Sweep cleanups have attracted two to three times as many participants in Covington as part of a highly publicized event that might include 150 cleanup sites along 3,000 miles of shoreline in six states.

It’s sponsored by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

“Even though ORSANCO shut down the larger event because of the pandemic and issued strict guidelines on the number of volunteers, we thought it important to get down there and make a difference,” Barnett said. “It definitely looks better.”
For more pictures, see the City of Covington’s Facebook page HERE.

TJ Ball and Joe Koehl pick up trash, a rusted rim, and an old carpet during River Sweep 2020

Some of the 3.19 tons of trash and debris.

City of Covington

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