More than 100 people took to canoes Friday to clean up the Illinois River. While the Scenic Rivers Commission discouraged littering, it encouraged safety. Volunteers paddled their way down the Illinois River in search of trash. As they unloaded their trash bags, they say they found things they never expected to find including a lawn chair, a car battery, a transmission vacuum control plus paper, beer cans and big old paint cans. Tires were also part of the hidden treasures under water. Each person filled up about four bags apiece.
River commissioners say perception is key to keeping things clean. "If individuals come to the river and they see a lot of trash on the banks or litter scattered about, they're going to be more inclined to leave litter behind," said Ed Fite, scenic rivers commissioner. Fite says by the end of the day, they handed out 60,000 trash bags. He started this program 16 years ago and says each year he sees less and less trash along the banks of the Illinois.
But trash wasn't the only thing on the agenda. Fite was promoting the use of life jackets as well. He says canoe operators can send adults and children out on the river with a jacket, but that doesn't mean they'll keep it on. "Just as soon as most folks get out of sight, they take it off," noted Fite. "They have the impression that if they have a personal floatation device in the canoe, they will have plenty of time to react if they get into trouble."
Volunteers said the day was quite rewarding, picking up what others shouldn't have left behind. The cleanup was productive. The volunteers picked up a ton and a half of trash.