Jersey Sierrans, Princeton Students Team Up on Canal Cleanup
The New Jersey Sierra Club and the Princeton University Student Volunteers Council (SVC) teamed up this September to clean up two key sites along the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
The event was organized by Sierra Club volunteers Leona and George Fluck, below, in conjunction with the Club's Water Sentinels Program, which donated t-shirts, mesh bags, and vulcanized gloves & liners to all cleanup participants. "The Sentinels t-shirts are so important as a recognition for volunteers," Leona says. "The students wore them proudly."
The Flucks, Sierra Club life members, have been organizing river-based cleanups in New Jersey for years. "As leaders of canoe and kayak trips, we see first-hand the pollution and trash in our precious waterways," says Leona, who serves as Outings Chair for the Club's Central Jersey Group and coordinates local Water Sentinels activities.
On the day of the cleanup, 14 Princeton students—mostly incoming freshmen—joined four Sierra Club volunteers in collecting and bagging an estimated 820 pounds of trash and more than 1,200 pounds of material suitable for recycling. Below, George Fluck briefs student volunteers at one of the cleanup sites.
The D& R Canal, connecting the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, was built in the 1830s, prior to the advent of railroads, as an efficient and reliable means of transporting freight between Philadelphia and New York City. In 1974, most of the canal system was declared a state park, and today it is used for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and as a vital water source—about 75 million gallons are pumped out every day by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority.
"I was overjoyed when they reached out to us," says Leona. "Princeton is just a stone's throw from the canal, and students hike and bike along it every day. It's great to be working hand-in-hand with students to protect our Delaware River watershed."
Below, the D&R Canal near Princeton.
In August, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition held a ride to celebrate the completion of a 1.5-mile "hinge" connecting previously separated sections of trail along a bend in the canal. Leona and George (at left and center, below) participated in the 14-mile round-trip ride between Lawrenceville and Trenton.
"That's when we identified the two areas for our cleanup," says George. "We ended up focusing on a 1-mile stretch that's popular with fishermen, and another area near a boom across the canal that collects trash before it flows into Assunpink Creek and then into the Delaware River at Trenton."
Below, cleaning up trash that had backed up behind the boom.
Ingrid Liu suggested that canoes be used for the cleanup, and after meeting at the cleanup site—a section of the canal that was strewn with trash coming off nearby highways and from general heavy usage of the park—she and Fluck decided on a combined land- and water-based cleanup.
"We used our personal canoes as barges to collect the trash and take it to the canal banks," George says. All the students took turns in the "trash barge," hauling it onshore and then separating the trash from the recycling before bagging it.
"This was the first volunteer experience of this kind for most of the students," says Leona, "and they worked tirelessly. In one area they pulled a huge truck tire and an old wheelchair out of the water, and they scoured the towpath areas and worked along the canal banks and to the water's edge to remove trash and recyclables left by fishermen and other canal users.
"The SVC is an amazing group of community-minded students. They were a delight to work with—good humored, singing songs, taking turns on the barge canoe, moving the baskets and barrels onshore, separating the trash from the recyclables, opening each container and emptying the contents if necessary. The SVC is a serious commitment for these students."
The Flucks emphasize that D&R Canal State Park staff were very supportive of the cleanup, picking up the bagged trash and recycling at prearranged locations the following day. They also give a special shout-out to fellow Sierrans Ken Britton and Joanne Pannone, below, who helped organize the D&R cleanup, and with whom they regularly kayak.
"Ken and Joanne are incredible volunteers," says Leona. "They pitched in on four different cleanups during Earth Week this year."