Volunteers Clean Up Along the Occoquan River

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Provided by Prince William County

More than 90 volunteers filled 87 large trash bags with debris picked from the Occoquan River during the recent 13th annual Occoquan River Cleanup, conducted by the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, a county partner and 501(c)3 organization.

The volunteers, who gathered trash on water and land, also removed two chairs, two televisions, a trash can, 13 tires, four 50-gallon barrels, eight plastic buckets, children’s toys and several large plastic jugs from 25 miles along the Occoquan River from the Lake Jackson dam to the Lake Ridge Marina.

Help from volunteers is essential to successful cleanups. “I’m impressed by the dedication of volunteers who are willing to take the time to participate and get dirty and wet when we do stream cleanups in floodplains or wetlands, where trash often accumulates,” said coalition Secretary Neil Nelson. “There are a number of volunteers who come out for cleanup events year after year, and some who are so committed that they do cleanups on their own, separate from the organized events.”

Volunteers with school, church, business and civic groups, scouting troops and HOAs often come out to various river cleanups hosted by the coalition.

“People help clean up because they want to contribute because they use the river or the trails and they want to help,” said Zoe Vitter, founding member and past president of the coalition, who volunteered at the most recent cleanup. “The response overwhelmingly is positive. People come back muddy and filthy with big smiles on their faces. They really feel like they did something.”

Rain washes trash from parking lots, roads and yards into streams, rivers and waterways. The trash needs to be removed to help protect the environment. “The volume of plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans is well documented,” Nelson said. “It is extremely harmful to wildlife. Locally, the Occoquan Reservoir is the source of our drinking water and a well-used recreation area.”

“A lot of people do not understand that in many places in our county, the drains go directly into the nearest creek or river,” Vitter said. “Plastic will get into the waterways.”

Edwin Martinez, the Virginia State Conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Preservation Service, showed up in an official capacity to help out, but his commitment to waterways goes further than his job. “This is a conservation effort at the state level, but the water is my passion. I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so I understand the importance of water quality.”

The coalition will also help groups that want to cleanup outside of the scheduled events, Vitter said. Visit pwtsc.org to learn more.

The next regular cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk in Woodbridge. Volunteers will meet and park at Neabsco Regional Park, at 15125 Blackburn Road, Woodbridge, on the cleanup day. Click here to register for the cleanup.

In addition to the coalition, cleanup sponsors included Prince William County Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the Prince William Soil & Water Conservation District.

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