Culpeper Star Exponent File 1
When Jeanine Meerscheidt lost her son Brandon in a tragic climbing accident in Grayson Highlands State Park earlier this year, she also lost a part of herself. She has now found her healing path along the banks of the Rappahannock River. “This is filling the hole that is left behind when you lose a loved one,” explained Jeanine Meerscheidt, still wet from wading through waist-high water and pulling out the trash others so carelessly left behind.In the wake of her son’s death, Meerscheidt came across a booth in Fredericksburg for the StreamSweepers and was immediately drawn in. Hearing about how they hire workers to spend the summer cleaning Virginia’s waterways, she felt she had found a way to pay tribute to her son.
“I was like, ‘Wow! Okay, this is something I absolutely have to do,’” says Meerscheidt, who was hired to be the On-Water Manager for the organization. Since then she’s spent two months with a handful of other paid employees of StreamSweepers floating downriver in a canoe trying to spot cast-off tires, cans, and golf balls. She and the others don’t hesitate to get their hands dirty pulling or prying them
out of the river bottom for hours on end each day. By the end of summer they will have pulled out 10 to 15 tons of trash, including a few hundred tires, along 20 to 40 miles of the Upper Rappahannock.
By summer’s end, the river will be healthier and Meerscheidt says she too will be better off. The symbiotic improvement is no coincidence. Rather, it is the goal for which the program was designed.
“The overriding mission is healing: healing people and healing nature, one river at a time,” said Michael Collins, executive director of the Center for Natural Capital which runs the program. “Everybody that comes in touch with this seems to connect with it and it sort of creates their own passion within them.”
While most river cleanups are done on a volunteer basis, StreamSweepers is somewhat unique in having paid, trained workers dedicated to the task five days a week throughout the summer. The program is run entirely through private funding from grants and donations, including a $50,000 grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation.
“The Dominion Energy grant has been very important in our being able to continue this work year after year,” said Project Manager Deb Manzari. “I think it’s been four years now we’ve had support from Dominion and it’s a large part of our budget. It allows us to keep this program going and we are grateful for it.”
Manzari sees the transformation taking place as soon as the initial one-week training is complete and the StreamSweepers find themselves out on the water, connecting with nature and looking out for each other’s safety.
“All of a sudden you get a really great group going and it’s really fun for me to see everybody work together and friendships form and it really feels like a wonderful environment to work in every day,” Manzari said.
For Meerschiedt, it is a literal labor of love. She is achieving her goal of getting comfortable in a canoe and getting in shape through the daily effort on the waterways. Most important, however, is the rehabilitation of both the river and her soul. “I’m in a lot better shape than I was two months ago, emotionally,” she said. “One tire at a time.”
The following series of photos gives you an idea of the effort that it takes to remove some of the trash from our rivers. At the heads of islands in these rivers you will often find a bulwark of downed trees that look alot like a large pile of “pixie sticks”. They catch all kinds of things! Our crew was DETERMINED not to leave this very large piece of trash that was entrenched in one such pile of trees. There are some videos too…showing the sheer joy of our group once the item has been removed…enough said.
Our season has begun! We are going to take some time over the next few weeks to thank the MANY good folks who have helped get this project rolling and to introduce you to the wonderful staff and the work they are doing. Stay tuned!
StreamSweepers and the Center for Natural Capital, its parent group, and its Board of Directors thanks the Charlottesville Area Community Foundations Dave Mathews Band BAMA Works Fund for selecting StreamSweepers to receive financial assistance for 2016 Central Virginia river cleaning, assessment, and maintenance work. “Rivers are our life blood –thanks for supporting the continuous cleansing of them”, noted our Chairman Ed Bain upon hearing of the Foundation’s award.
We really appreciate the support of this wonderful foundation. Go BAMA!
Help From Our Friends Results in Removal of a Tire Weighing 2100 Pounds
In mid-July as the StreamSweepers crew was moving down the Rapidan River in the area near Raccoon Ford they discovered a tire like they had never seen before. On first glance it looked much like the large tractor tires they routinely find, but on further inspection and digging, it became apparent that this tire was over 6 feet in diameter and about three feet wide and mostly submerged in unyielding sediment and heavy muck. After spending about a half hour sizing up the situation and knowing that there was a lot more river to cover that day the StreamSweepers crew knew that this tire would have to be revisited. A plan was developed and a day was scheduled to go after the big tire. Needless to say after 5 hours of work with 5 people the crew was only able to get it to budge about an inch.
Determined to have this tire removed from the river, the crew began to consider who they knew that might have the proper equipment to get the job done. StreamSweepers called on Dominion Energy as their Foundation has been a supporter of the program. Their construction crew based in Orange was eager to help! Below are some photos and videos of their skilled efforts which resulted in a big clean up for the Rapidan. We’re grateful for the can-do spirit of this group who worked voluntarily to get the job done!
Today, the 2015 StreamSweepers completed the first comprehensive assessment and cleaning of entire major river valley in Virginia. This vision, conceived by a small group of residents from Orange, VA to assess and clean the entire Rapidan River from Shenandoah National Park to Fredericksburg, was made possible only through the generous support of Rapidan and Robinson River Landowners and StreamSweepers Supporters throughout Virginia. After 100 miles of work spanning three years, Sweepers came to the end of their journey, at the confluence of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers.
In this year alone, 11 area college and upper high school students were employed full time during the summer to assess the condition of the river valley and sweep junk from the river’s bed and banks. Over $13,000 in training and fieldwork payroll was provided to these young men and women.
In the weeks ahead, information on the health of the Rapidan River Valley will be published and presented to landowners and other supporters of this job corps program.
During the 2014 season, Sweepers found several large tanks on area rivers too large to be extracted with boats (see below).
After months of planning and waiting for the ground to freeze, on Saturday, January 10, Sweepers with Partner Contour Construction, LLC (Mark, Jamie on excavator, Lee on drove dump truck, and Danny) mobilized at dawn to begin extraction of a very large (~4000 gallon) tank from the Robinson.
As usual, things did not go exactly according to plans. With lots of ingenuity and hard work, shortly before midday, the last section of tank was hauled off the property leaving the bank in much improved condition.
The short video below shows the effort that went into removal. Turns out the tank was pitted on the bottom and filled with sediment.