September 28, 2009


Volunteers clean up McGraw creeks

About 70 people spent the day pulling debris, tree limbs from water


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Jermane Neely leads a group of Boy Scouts looking for trash and debris along Trout Brook Saturday in McGraw as part of a countywide river cleanup.

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Joe Steinhoff pulled a big wooden sign board from Mosquito Creek and onto the shore Saturday morning, adding it to the material his fellow McGraw High School students had been collecting.
Steinhoff’s fellow members of Students for the Environment, a school club, were looking through a trash bag full of rusted scraps of metal, a deer bone, a chunk of auto body — all from the waters flowing next to them.
“It’s like stuff from a construction site in some cases,” said junior Loretta Buerkle, the club president, standing on a trail near the village soccer field. “The people just leave it here and think nobody will notice. It ends up in the water and the water brings it up.”
Saturday was the 13th annual Cortland County River Cleanup, sponsored by the county Soil and Water Conservation District.
From 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m., teams of volunteers across the county waded through rivers and streams, removing not just man-made debris but tree trunks and branches.
In McGraw, that meant clearing the four creeks of debris, an activity made more urgent by recent flooding along Smith Brook.
About 70 people, including Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, met at the village park off Clinton Street and formed teams. The team leaders wore orange vests and carried walkie-talkies provided by the village fire department that they could use in an emergency and to keep track of each other.
A group of residents has organized cleanups in the past, but the last one was two years ago, said Sally Sprouse, one of the Saturday event’s leaders. This year, the Village Board asked the group to have its cleanup in conjunction with the Soil and Water cleanup day.
Information sheets from Soil and Water provided guidelines such as telling volunteers to wear plastic gloves or work gloves, and to beware of hazardous material such as animal carcasses and needles. The teams were supposed to inventory what they found.
The high school students were filling trash bags with debris and taking them up a trail used by hikers and all-terrain vehicle drivers to a grassy area near the soccer field where Soil and Water workers would pick it up. Village workers were going to take some of the piles to waste disposal facilities in Cortland.
Senior Justin Dimorier said the Students for the Environment members visit outdoor areas, such as Taughannock Falls State Park near Trumansburg, appreciating their beauty.
He said the students have organized their own creek cleanups in the past.
“This cleanup is good for the community,” he said. “Especially for our age group. It gets us up and moving on a Saturday morning.”
Buerkle said the students were glad to do something hands-on that improves the environment, instead of just reading about it.
It also took their minds off that night’s Homecoming Weekend soccer games against archrival Cincinnatus.
Over on Trout Brook, near the Clinton Street bridge, members of Cub Scout Pack 91 and Boy Scout Troop 91 removed trees from the water and bank.
Team co-leader Tim Neff used a chainsaw to carve up the branches and trunks, which the boys and several adults carried to a pile near McGraw Box Co.’s back entrance.
Some of the logs weighed as much as the boys, who struggled with them.
Team co-leader Connie Neff, Tim’s wife, was one of the day’s organizers. She said the volunteers’ breakfast and lunch had been donated by Tops, P&C and Price Chopper supermarkets, Dunkin’ Donuts and Applebee’s.
“It’s good to give back to the community and do service,” said Boy Scout patrol leader Adam Williams, 17.
Wayne Sisson, one of the Cub Scout pack’s leaders, said the scouts were asked to help. As he spoke, his son Cameron, 7, fell into the water.
“It must be warm, he’s not complaining,” Sisson said as his son plowed waist-deep through the water.
Further east, Jermaine Neely, 33, led a team of five boys and two adults. They picked their way among bushes and rocks along Trout Brook, past a massive dead tree that arched across the water, its branches trapping sticks and leaves.
“Anything helps, it really does, whether it’s five people or 100,” Connie Neff said before the teams left the park. “This won’t solve the flooding problems but it could help.”
Flooding along Smith Brook on Aug. 9 and Aug. 23 damaged yards on East Academy and Spring streets, including the Neffs’, and along the McGraw-Marathon Road in Cortlandville. A group of residents has been speaking to government boards about how to stop the flooding and prevent hundreds of trees and debris piles along the brook from causing worse problems.
“We should do this every year,” said Mayor Pamela Ross, a team leader along Mosquito Creek off North Street.


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