By Haley Wisniewski
John Stephen has found pounds of “river glass”, which are remnants from the former glass factories along the Allegheny River.
Some of the most bizarre items Jeff McCauley has found in and around the three rivers range from sullied stuffed animals to sporting equipment, like basketballs and footballs, to bicycles.
“Last year, we picked up 702 trash bags, which is the equivalent of about 8 tons of garbage, from the riverfronts,” said McCauley.
For 24 years, “Friends of the Riverfront” has been at the forefront of transforming the polluted waters of the three rivers into meccas of outdoor fun. Although they have retrieved tons of litter and garbage out of the rivers, those involved admit there is still much to do.
“Friends of the Riverfront” began in 1991 with the mission of developing more riverfront trails throughout Pittsburgh that would give millions of people access to the rivers in the city. One of its most enduring successes is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which is credited with connecting neighborhoods, parks, and business districts in a 24-mile span. As more trails developed, so did the need for maintenance of them. This led to the organization of cleanups around the rivers. Today, Friends of the Riverfront partners with many organizations and businesses during their cleanups including Alcoa, Highmark, and AmeriCorps to help inform as many people as possible about the safe ways to eliminate trash.
“It’s a little sad we have to be worried about things like hypodermic needles or water bottles full of liquid that might not be water… so really we are just going through trying to pick up everything that we can,” said Stephanie Laurenza, a volunteer from Alcoa.
Steven Claves, a worker for Alcoa, volunteered his time this year and last year to plant trees and clean up litter along the trails. The work the volunteers do is very much appreciated because so many people use the trails, including Claves, who runs and bikes along them. Last year while maintaining the area around Washington’s Landing, a few cyclists stopped to thank Claves and the group he was in for their efforts to make the trails as clean and beautiful as possible for riders.
Stephen, a co-founder of “Friends of the Riverfront”, has found plenty of “river glass” in his years of working with the organization. When walking along the river, he can tell which bottles are new and which pieces of glass are examples of the industrial past of Pittsburgh.
McCauley is currently the Director of Stewardship for “Friends of the Riverfront.” He and his volunteers walk along the rivers and also take boats to clean the litter along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. During a cleanup under the 40th Street Bridge last fall, the group noticed handlebars jutting up from the ground along the river. As the boat approached the shore, they realized it was a whole bicycle with a working chain. Two volunteers loaded it onto the boat and the group continued on to search for more litter.
Two years ago during a volunteer cleanup in the North Side, a group led by McCauley was planting flower bulbs along the trail wearing “Friends of the Riverfront” vests when a lady threw a bottle on the ground two feet from where they were working and continued to walk away, expecting somebody else to throw it away.
“She had just passed three trash cans within the last quarter mile… I like to share that with my volunteers that I work with to show that even though there are a lot of people that care, there are still some people there that have a level of arrogance that I cannot comprehend and act like that when they had just passed a trash can”, said McCauley.
As a volunteer-based organization, “Friends of the Riverfront” encourages as many people as possible to attend its numerous events held each year to continue to beautify the river fronts. In 2014, over 1,500 volunteers attended 50 events throughout the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
The “Friends of the Riverfront’s” future goals include educating as many people as possible on the importance of keeping the rivers safe and litter-free and to increase the number of volunteers. To get involved, visit the volunteer page at their website www.friendsoftheriverfront.org.
“We would like to build on our strong reputation as a volunteer organization and hope to recruit both more volunteers and a more diverse volunteer base to make sure everyone understands that it takes a community effort to make sure the riverfronts are a nice and clean place for everyone to enjoy,” said McCauley.