By TEDDYE SNELL
TAHLEQUAH — firstname.lastname@example.org
Area Illinois River enthusiasts took to the water early Friday morning with garbage bags in tow.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, along with local river outfitters, provided a free float trip to anyone interested in helping clean up the area after the end of the official summer season.
In addition to free floating, participants were treated to a barbecue feast and door prizes. Two lucky floaters won kayaks provided by area businesses.
Ron Allen and Kim Baker, of Cherokee Nation Enterprises Safety Department, were among the first to come off the river toting trash bags full of beer cans.
“This is awesome,” said Baker. “You get to float the river for free, clean up the area and get out of the office for a day. I’m glad we were able to help.”
According to Cassandra Carter, OSRC education outreach coordinator, 101 individuals participated in Friday’s event.
“A number of groups signed up, including Cherokee Nation Businesses, Cobb Vantress, Armstrong Bank and Budweiser,” said Carter. “They all had teams of people floating and cleaning.”
Next week, a similar cleanup will take place.
“We’ll have about 100 kids from Tahlequah High School float and pick up trash next Friday,” said Carter. “They’ll be representing JROTC and the science club.”
OSRC board member Gerald Hilsher and Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute’s Jeri Fleming also participated in the float.
“We’re representing the Environmental section of the Oklahoma Bar Association today,” said Fleming, with a laugh.
Carter said participants signed up in advance for Friday’s float and upon arrival, were dispersed to different float operators for launch on the river.
“We had operators donate canoes,” said Carter. “Once people started arriving, we’d send them in groups to various operators to get started.”
For Hilsher, spending time on the river holds special meaning.
“I lived in the Echota House my senior year of college,” said Hilsher. “We’d load up canoes in the back of a pickup truck and head to No Head Hollow. We’d unload there, and float back down to Echota.”
Hilsher was raised in Texas, and discovered Green Country’s beauty while visiting a friend during spring break one year.
“After visiting Lake Tenkiller and the Illinois River, I had never seen country so beautiful,” said Hilsher. “My friend suggested I get a scholarship and move, since he was losing a roommate, so I did. That’s how I fell in love with the river.”
OSRC Administrator said Hilsher’s passion is what makes him the perfect OSRC board member and Illinois River advocate.
“I just know what it was and what it should be,” said Hilsher.
During the cookout, participants were encouraged to donate findings from their float to the “unusual stuff” pile.
“We found a VHS tape,” said Hilsher.
Someone else noted finding a clothes hanger, wondering who would need a hanger while floating the river.
“By far, the blue carp are the most prevalent among the findings,” said Fite. “Blue carp is the name we’ve given to Bud Light cans, since they’re shiny and blue.”
Fite said about two truckloads of garbage were collected during Friday’s event.