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My Young River Keeper

November 10, 2016

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My son August Xavier is a fan of rivers. This comes from living near the Hudson River and taking family vacations which traced the Delaware, Potomac, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and Salmon Rivers. As a three-year old he was awed by Niagara Falls and took his first extended river walk that same year in the Monongahela. As a little boy he would go hiking with me, putting on big rubber boots and walking not on the trails but against the flow of early spring water in local creeks. He has since rafted on the Kennebec, Cumberland and Missouri rivers, kayaked in the Mystic and Long Island Sound, and makes an annual trip to view the St. Lawrence from the Canadian side. As an eight year old he was once asked to draw a picture of the United States; but he didn’t draw the state lines – he drew the rivers.

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The concept of watershed comes naturally to August. We talk about it, of course, but we also live it. We live in an urban co-op in downtown White Plains, NY, exactly 1,670 steps from the Mamaroneck River to the east, and 1,670 steps from the Bronx River to the west. Our building sits on the ridge between two watersheds. It is a completely built environment, of course, but still we can literally watch water flowing in two opposite directions from our building during heavy rainfall. The storm drains at either end of our street take this water to the Long Island Sound and to the Hudson River.

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Nearly a month ago my son and I learned of American Rivers’ Virtual Landfill project. Using the hashtag #rivercleanup, participants pledge to pick up “25 pieces of trash in 25 days” and post photos online. The invitation noted that “storm drains, parking lots, and rain; they’re all connected when it comes to moving trash into rivers.” Keeping this trash from getting into the storm sewers in the first place is a practical way to contribute to cleaner rivers that everyone can do wherever they are – even us city dwellers. Though we have several times filled trash bags during on our walks along the Bronx River, August is still too young to participate in any of the organized Annual Coastal Cleanup projects sponsored by our local river activists, the Bronx River Alliance. This, on the other hand, we could handle. We pledged ourselves immediately.

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Most of the trash has been picked up coming to or from the school bus, on our way to the stores and restaurants on Main Street, or walking to church. It’s become part of our daily routine. Because of our proximity to a shopping district we primarily found discarded plastic bags, consumer packaging, receipts, unwanted advertising cards, food wrappers and soiled utensils. This trash would have ended up in the four storm drains on our street. All of it was carelessly and needlessly tossed aside: there are trash cans at either end of the street. Beyond that, there are two parks nearby, each of which contains more than ten trash cans each.

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The hardest part of the pledge was not the picking up of one piece of trash each day. That was easy, and we will continue to do so long after our 25 days are complete. No, the hardest part was resisting the lure to pick up ALL of the trash. We could have done it, a few times, but we would never have sustained it as a daily practice. Instead, we have become more willing to say something when we see someone littering. And we pick up something. We discovered that there is a need for a trash can in the middle of the block, as in fact there used to be; something we are trying to correct. We also want to give a shout out to our building supervisor who we watch everyday pick up trash in front of our building. We’ve come to see the building supervisors throughout our city as unrecognized river keepers by keeping this stuff out of our rivers in the first place.

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Today, was day 23 out of 25. We’ll be done in a few days, but will continue to work keeping our street and sewers clean. When we look at our street, we think about the rivers. So, how about you? Are you up for the challenge? Visit American Rivers online and sign up today.

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