Thirty to forty volunteers showed up at the Rt. 36 access to the Mad River on Saturday, overlooking the Low Head Dam, for the last trash cleanup of the season. Ron Lewis, president of the Trout Unlimited Mad Men chapter and vice chairman of the Trout Unlimited Ohio State council, has been hosting these gatherings since 2014, which includes visiting every parking lot between West Liberty and State Route 41 in Springfield, and five boat crews that begin traveling the river at daybreak.
“I fish this river two to three times a week,” Lewis said. “I used to only wade into the river, but when I got together with a bunch of friends and we started floating the river, we started seeing a lot of sections that we hadn’t visited before.”
Lewis was surprised to find refrigerators, mattresses, stand-up and chest freezers, and old ’50s TV sets as well as modern ones dumped into the river. On one visit he even discovered a full-sized hot tub that he had to cut into pieces with a saw before he could remove it from the river.
“A lot of times at the parking lots we do find mass dumpings out of convenience, which is illegal,” he said. “Another thing we find a lot of is beer cans. This is a Bud Light area. State laws say you can’t be on the water with a beer in the boat, so a lot of people throw it into the water to avoid getting caught.”
Lewis hosted the first cleanup in the spring of 2014, when about 30 people showed up with trash bags and pickup trucks. He has paid for each one of these gatherings out of his own pocket, but this summer he was assisted by fellow trout fisher Tim Nagel in applying for a grant from Fly Fishers International to supply cleanup materials, food for the volunteers, and possibly a dumpster. He is now in the process of setting up a 501c3 non-profit organization so that the group can be free from income tax as they start to receive donations.
“Ron’s been doing this for a while,” said Nagel, a member of three fly fishing organizations. “He fishes the river a lot and has carried bags of trash away with him. This is a real grassroots effort of people who just want to clean up the river, but Rob has a vision of establishing something bigger and hopefully self-sustaining.”
“I’ve been here for every one we’ve had,” said volunteer Steve Hamilton. “The way I look at it is I get a lot of enjoyment from the river. The river gives me something – relaxation, it’s my way of relieving stress from work – so this is my way of giving back to the river.”
Lewis said he feels the river has been getting cleaner thanks to the efforts of both his group and the Birch Bark Canoe Livery.
“We come in before the canoes, and then we come back after the canoes have finished so the river is as pristine as possible,” he said.
The next cleanup will take place in spring of 2018. For more information, visit www.tumadmen.org.