Annual Brandywine Red Clay Alliance cleanup benefits water quality

Take 700-plus volunteers, plop them along nearly 90 miles of highways and creeks, and then stand back and witness one of the region’s oldest ongoing spring cleanup events.

Co-sponsored by the Delaware Nature Society and the Pennsylvania-based Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, the annual Red Clay Valley Clean Up has removed on average 10 tons of trash from Delaware and Pennsylvania roadways and stream banks since its start nearly 20 years ago.

BRCA executive director Jim Jordan said that while the scope of the refuse they find has changed, there’s still plenty of stuff to find.

“There’s a lot of it, but it’s smaller,” Jordan said. “It’s mostly window trash from people’s cars, or it blows out of people’s yards or construction sites. We’re not finding the car engines or appliances like we used to, and a lot less tires.”

By “a lot less,” he means around 150 or so, versus the 800 or more the volunteers used to find in a single day.

“There used to be no mechanism in place for old tires, but now there are companies in place buying and recycling old tires,” he said. “We still find plenty, in the creeks and in the roads.”

Jordan noted that things have changed significantly from when it first started, where volunteers were cleaning up decades worth of accumulated trash.

Now, Jordan noted, it’s a matter of maintenance.

“From the 1950s through to the 1980s, if people had something big they wanted to get rid of, they dumped it,” Jordan said, recalling a dirt road near the Fieldstone Golf Course that had attracted hundreds – if not thousands – of discarded appliances and furniture pieces.

“We’ve been fortunate that what we’re seeing less of the big stuff, because now virtually every store you buy from has an option to remove your old appliance for you,” he said. “Before, you were left with your own ideas on how to get rid of things.”

Last year, 628 volunteers removed over 11 tons of trash in five hours.

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Jordan said he believes the cleanup does more than just beautify the sights and clean up the watershed – because what’s on the road ends up in the stream.

“It’s also an educational tool. If you spend three or four hours picking up somebody else’s trash, you won’t toss something out of your car window, or let someone else do it,” he said. “That’s why we’re always excited to have local school groups in, because the earlier you establish these ideas, the better.”

Charles Shattuck, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin, said that his greater concern is also for what eventually makes it into the streams from the roads, adding that small pieces of plastic eventually make it into the ocean, and subsequently into the belies of hungry birds and fish.

“That really bothers me,” Shattuck said. “And that’s stuff we can take care of in our little backyard here.”

State Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, a longtime sponsor of the event, said that the cleanup is a great cause and tradition wrapped into one.

“I so appreciate all the volunteers and work that goes into the day, and I’m happy to be able to play a small part to help,” Lavelle said.

For details or more information, visit brandywineredclay.org.