Rafters recycle river rubbish

About 120 volunteers from rafting businesses came out Tuesday to clean up the Ocoee River Gorge and the whitewater river that helps them work and play, said Blake McPherson, manager of Cherokee Rafting and co-chairman of the 2010 Ocoee River Cleanup.

"We want to make sure that our guests see how nice and beautiful the Ocoee is -- and what it's worth," he said.

The clean-up work, part of the National River Cleanup 2010, had a first -- recycling.

Rick Houlk, owner of Big Frog Expeditions, and 16 members of his operation volunteered to go through the bags of trash and sort out recyclables. In previous years, the contents of a trash bin filled to overflowing all had to be landfilled.

"It seemed like we were taking a lot of trash off the river and not recycling any at all," Mr. Houlk said. "We're getting about twice as much plastic as aluminum and glass."

Mr. McPherson estimated the trash load will probably be cut in half this year because of the recycling.

Mr. Houlk said his volunteers were giving their day to help and he hoped the group would take a trophy at an outfitters dinner later Tuesday to treat all those taking part in the cleanup effort.

"It'd be bad if we didn't have gloves," quipped David Dodd, a volunteer, who said he planned to take a cooling dip in the river at the workday's end.

FAST FACTS* The Ocoee River has been a favorite of rafters, kayakers and canoeists since 1977, and it was the site of the 1996 whitewater Olympic events.* The river's headwaters descend from the high country of North Georgia into Southeast Tennessee.

Mr. McPherson said he had thought the closure of U.S. Highway 64 for five months earlier this year because of a rock slide would lessen the volume of trash found by volunteers.

But that proved not to be the case as volunteers began lugging garbage bags to the one-day "recycling center" beside the No. 2 Ocoee Dam.

"We've found a lot of plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups, lots of paper products, a couple of car parts, and a lot cigarette butts," he said. "As much traffic as this road gets in the spring and summer -- there's just a lot here in the cracks and crannies."

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