Bright red canoes were unloaded for late summer drifts down the Wood River as scratched, dented canoes were loaded with garbage from the Woonasquatucket River.
They are dramatically different waterways, both in need of some repair, both gladly supported by volunteers. On Saturday, people came out in force to clean and improve both rivers while helping us to understand more about waters and how they run through us all.
At the Route 165 check station in Exeter, Trout Unlimited Chapter 225 President Glenn Place, with sweat soaking through his shirt, was pleasantly surprised by the number of volunteers. With just a few days notice, nearly thirty TU members aged 14 to 80 arrived to set rocks, shovel stone, improve a walkway and clear trails along a stretch popular for launching canoes and evenings of fly casting.
The Wood River winds for 25 miles from her headwaters in Northeast Connecticut, taking on several small streams before joining the Pawcatuck River in Alton. The chapter works closely with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management on many fronts; members have provided time and talent to keep The Wood clean and stocked with trout while gathering environmental data and building access ways which respect her natural path and preserve her stream beds. This day was all about stabilizing and protecting.
At the United Way’s Valley St. office in Providence, more than fifty volunteers stepped up to clean up tires, pull away shopping carts and uproot invasive knotweed. The Woonasquatucket, or Woonie as she is locally known, winds for 19 miles from its North Smithfield headwaters, joins the Moshassuck as what we now call the Providence River and then drains into Narragansett Bay. Callous discards of lazy people are evidenced along her route but the Woonie is loved as a stretch of opportunity and successes. For the last few years, she has benefited mightily by countless hours of sweat and dedication from the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council and their passionate River Rangers. This day was all about paddling, painting and hauling.
Why is it such a big deal if you climb down a bank to get a better cast? Why is there a shopping cart in the river? Why is a little dirt a hassle for fish eggs? Why do some think it’s ok or even fun, to roll tires or toss milk cartons into a river? At first blush, trudging off paths and sliding down banks in pursuit of fish pales in comparison to tossing a rusting patio chair or busted television into a stream but in some ways, they are not dissimilar. Both are harming a vein running through us, be it along a busy urban park with streetlights or through a quiet emotional retreat shaded with maples.
Both situations are being fixed.
“Another thing that made this year a success was the beautification sign painting. My sister Nell helped organize people to put together some positive messages onto plywood signs that I had primed,” said Peter Van Noppen, Managing Director of the The Armory Revival Company. With the help of 35 Chinese teenagers, part of RIA Global Education, trash was piled for pictures alongside paintings to keep the mood even brighter. In waders, boots and boats, together they pulled shopping carts, seemingly endless pieces of plastic, children’s toys, even chain link fencing from the water. They needed a trailer to haul away the tires.
They removed armloads of invasive knotweed to encourage native plants to regain their ground. They were supported by the Armory Management Company, Providence’s Department of Public Works employees who hauled away the heavy items, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc and many local businesses who recognize the importance of clean water and improved neighborhoods.
“We’ve been waiting two years to do this,” Rich Benson said as TU members sweat through camouflage jackets and sleeveless t-shirts. Dick Green shoveled away dirt from a wooden staircase, Jim Rubovits raked away debris and Lawson Cary set the biggest rocks he could to form an edge. Everyone shoveled and raked yards of stone over angled banks to control erosion and discourage foot traffic. They clipped, lopped and macheted their way through heavy cover to encourage fishermen to stay on paths as they seek solitude and trout. TU volunteers donate hundreds of man hours each year for similar work, to teach fly tying and casting. Members understand that angler pressure on riverbanks can destabilize them which pushes dirt, stones and gravel into the river bed. All that debris can cover critical smooth gravel beds where trout deposit their eggs. Crumbling banks uproot trees which provide shade to keep water temperatures low, a critical concern for trout.
Each effort was an improvement to the whole. Thirty-five miles apart, they are very different rivers but the volunteers’ motivations are identical with a common thread of education and restoration. All those volunteer hours hopefully encourage residents that rivers are for fish, not trash. Hokey perhaps to say we all live downstream but we do. Whether it’s The Wood’s quiet cool or The Woonasquatucket’s downtown hustle, it’s water, it’s everything, it’s what we’re made of and will not live without. Cheers to both groups for so many years of dedication.