It was nearing 3:30 by the time we slid our crafts into the placid waters of the French Broad. Were it not for the slight breeze at our backs, it would have been hard to tell downstream from up. The sun shone freely from a cloudless sky. The mood was light, the chatter friendly. We were a sizeable crew comprised of four canoes, four SUPs, three kayaks, and two rafts, but the challenge before us was equally substantial—clean up the Broad from Hominy Creek to the Salvage Station.
No one likes to do the dirty work. It takes a special type of person to be willing to sacrifice a gorgeous fall afternoon for the sake of improving trails or cleaning up litter and wrestling decade-old tires from the mud. It’s unglamorous, often discouraging work, a glimpse into the reality some of our natural resources face. But here at Blue Ridge Outdoors, we feel that if we want to go outside and play in years to come, we better get out and give back now.
Not a minute after hitting the water and my coworker Dusty was already waist-deep in murky water digging up a tractor tire. The Litter Floatilla swarmed the banks. Finding trash became a competition—who could find the most, the weirdest. I recovered a left flip flop, then another left flip flop, then an unopened can of Fat Tire. We sank up to our shins in mud. We hauled rebar and steel sewer casings and bottles upon bottles from the high water debris. Adam and Kyle, owner of Wai Mauna Asheville SUP Tours, spent close to half an hour digging out a rusted metal grate from the bank. Noah from ENO wallowed for about the same amount of time to free a full-size box spring from the river’s bottom, except he managed it alone.
Somewhere amid the cleanup, I found myself paddling alone. The river was peaceful, despite the bustling traffic just beyond the treeline. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of or behind me. The late afternoon sunlight glistened between the trees, bouncing off the water’s surface in a dazzling display of brilliance. I rounded the bend and saw, to my surprise, a great blue heron. He was stoically perched on a limb, unmoving, like a statue. I turned my bow in his direction, hoping to drift closer, but he lifted off. As the soft swooping of his wings drifted back upstream, I started to appreciate a whole other meaning to the river cleanup. As paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s important to give back not only to the places where we play, but also to the species that call these rivers and forests home. Protecting their sanctuary is infinitely more important.
When we emerged from the river at the Salvage Station over two hours later, it was humbling to see the mound of garbage we had collected—tires, 2′ x 12′ boards, bags upon bags of trash. Someone even found a bedpan (he obviously won the award for weirdest piece of trash). We were muddy and weary but proud of the 20+ other individuals who showed to serve in the first annual French Broad Litter Floatilla.
Have a #getoutgiveback idea in mind for your backyard? Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking for ways to collaborate with communities and give back to the places where we like to go outside and play.