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.
By the end of summer, StreamSweepers will have pulled out 10 to 15 tons of trash, including a few hundred tires, along the Upper Rappahannock.
“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 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.”