Several weeks ago, what I thought would begin as an ordinary volunteer event with the usual handful of characters, instead wound up becoming one of the most memorable and rewarding events I've ever attended. It would have been as satisfying as any fishing day I could remember if not for the fact that I had to go back to my day job afterwards.
I received an e-mail from Brian Cowden, TU's Home Waters Chairman, requesting volunteers to help haul out discarded tires from the Musconetcong River. Brian included photos in his e-mail of a stretch of river formerly known as the Gruendyke Dam, with dozens of car, truck, and tractor tires along the banks and littering the river bottom. One look at those photos and there was no question whether I would help. We believe but cannot prove, that for many years someone was dumping tires into the river. Judging from the amount and vintage of what we hauled out, we're talking several decades worth. With the combination of the dam removal and recent storms, hundreds of tires were unearthed and washed downstream resting above and below the Pump House Restaurant.
When I arrived that morning I was shocked to see not the usual few, but an army of almost fifty volunteers and equipment handlers, heavy equipment, and several dump trucks. There were members from all the northern TU chapters, Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA) Trustees and members, local high schoolers and college students, local residents, and members of the press.
At 8 am the temperature was already in the upper 70's. It was hot and humid yet the atmosphere in the water was festive. Young and old, short and tall, male and female, we all went right to work. One thing to be said of the construction staff...their skills, speed, and accuracy which could be easily compared to synchronized swimming made that day a safe and productive one. No one knew there were that many tires. Filled with mud and river water, some weighing upwards of several hundred pounds, the staff helped us get them out of the water, out of the mud, and up the bank. Throughout the morning we would often form bucket brigade lines to remove smaller tires and trash from the river. We even took out a sunken boat.
By 10 am the temperature had reached the mid 80's and the water crew was busy handing out cold bottles to workers in the shade and especially to the those in the sun. After several hours of heavy lifting, digging, and pushing, what we lacked in strength and endurance we made up for in camaraderie, determination, and attitude. With constant reinforcements arriving throughout the morning the sounds of laughter, joking, and loud engines never diminished. With every full dump truck that left the parking lot, feelings of pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment grew.
The grand finale of this glorious event was lunch and refreshments served on the patio of the Pump House Restaurant. Tired (no pun intended), sweaty, and full of mud, I hated to leave. It was one long party from beginning to end. And in the end, we removed hundreds of tires and we assume there are hundreds more that will be unearthed and washed down stream during the fall rains. Remember, this is only the first of many dams to come down along the Musky. There is so much more to do. So next time you receive an invitation or an Action Alert by e-mail for a river clean up...volunteer...you could have the time of your life.
One more thing, do we have your e-mail address? If not give it to us at the next CJTU meeting.