By JOSH NEWTON
On a warm, sunny Friday morning, Jane Bond and Cheryl Young took a peaceful canoe trip down the Illinois River.
Any passersby who took a glimpse into their canoe might have seen the inflatable toys, beer cans, grill and other sorts of items, and thought the two were headed to party, or had already been to one.
Instead, Bond and Young, like many others, had been gathering bag after bag of trash from the scenic Illinois River.
“We kind of go along and pick up the trash that other people miss,” said Bond, who has participatd in annual river cleanups with Young for a number of years. “Everybody gets a little, and it all adds up.”
Young said the river is a unique feature that needs to be protected.
“We love the river, and we like it to be clean,” said Young.
Approximately 130 volunteers gathered along the Illinois River Friday morning and set out in canoes, armed with life vests and trash bags, according to Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite.
“They picked up a dump-truck load of trash,” said Fite.
Participating in the venture were numerous businesses and civic organizations, as well as a group of Tahlequah High School students. Several poultry companies also sent representatives to help, and individuals from Oklahoma and the Arkansas watershed area also took to the task.
“All operations along the river floated people, so volunteers were scattered up and down,” said Fite.
Volunteers found trash bag after trash bag of the typical garbage left from summertime visitors – beer cans, paper products and clothing items, for instance. Fite said there were also some unique finds along the journey.
“They recovered a beer funnel that looked like an octopus – it had eight hoses to it,” said Fite.
“I’d never seen something like that. And they recovered a Viking hat, along with the usual stuff like fishing rods, soda cans, food wrappers, metal, a lot of stuff. We are thankful to have had people who will volunteer their time to help keep our natural resource clean.”
Volunteers get a free canoe ride down the river for helping. They usually participate in several cleanup events throughout the year, but an unusually warm summer made Friday’s event the only one of 2011. River conditions were perfect for floating, said Fite.
After floating the river and bagging up the debris, volunteers gathered at Diamond Head Resort for a free lunch and to see if they’d won kayaks or other prizes for their efforts.
“If everyone who came to the Illinois River would just take the time to pick up and remove two pieces of trash every time they visit the river, that go a long way in keeping it clean,” said Fite.
The annual Illinois River Fest will be Oct. 29 at War Eagle Resort on State Highway 10. Activities will include music, food and informational booths for adults and children. For more information, call (918) 456-3251.