By Greg Nance, Watershed Protection Specialist

A “tactical cleanup” can mean many different things but in short it is a cleanup that involves special planning, extra tools, and and specific volunteer help. Most of the time these take place in areas of the basin that are hard to get to. It could also mean that special equipment or skillsets are needed to complete these missions. They take extra time and careful planning to ensure a safe and successful cleanup.

Personally, these are the cleanups I am most passionate about. As rivers and creeks meander through the land there are areas along the shoreline that have the perfect geography to collect trash and debris that travel downstream. Once trash lands in one these areas that have been deemed “hotspots” it could stay for decades. It is not uncommon to find trash in these places upwards of 50 years old. On the bright side once these hotspots have been discovered, cleaned, and logged nothing other than a spot clean every few years will be necessary to maintain pristine conditions. Hotspots in most cases do not happen overnight, they have simply been overlooked for long periods of time. That alone should give us all hope that someday trash along the shorelines may not be such a common site.

I am proudest of the tactical cleanup that took place in Great Falls, SC earlier this fall. Future plans for recreational whitewater releases into a section of river that very few paddlers have seen in 100 years or more is what lured me there, initially. While scouting the rapids from the shore on my maiden voyage I discovered a small area on the banks that had collected a lot of trash that would be challenging to extract. After giving it some thought and working with local legend Mike Vaughn a plan started to come together.

The trash was too far up the moving water to get a motorized craft to the site and there is a long lake paddle that sits between the site and boat ramp that would need to be reached. I have paddled a few other rivers in the Southeastern United States that also empty into lakes such as the Chattooga River and Tallulah Gorge. In these areas some of the local fisherman have started accommodating the paddlers by towing them with john boats across the lake to the takeout. Mike was quick to offer his assistance with towing a crew so I sent out an email calling the whitewater community to help with this mission.

The amount of people that showed up to assist and lend out their expertise and equipment to complete the mission was incredible. When we arrived to the site everyone had the same reaction, “WOW! Look at all of it”. We got to work right away and knocked it out collecting 1,040 lbs. of trash.

Now that the work had been completed it was time to start mission #2, paddle the class 3-4 rapids of the Great Falls section of the Catawba River. This would involve carrying our kayaks, canoes, and rafts a quarter mile up an undeveloped hillside to a service road from the cleanup site, then hike a half mile to the top of the channel, and finally lowering our boats with ropes back down another undeveloped hillside to our put-in.

The rapids and scenery were glorious and knowing that everyone on the river with me that day was all experiencing this special place that very few others have seen for the first time together as a team is a memory that I will always cherish. When you make positive impacts on the river, the river then returns the favor. Thank you to all of our members and friends of the river that make amazing things possible. Enjoy a video from this day by clicking below.