For over two decades hundreds of volunteers come forward on an early Saturday in September to help clean up the Assabet River. You’d think after 20 years we wouldn’t have much left to do. You would be very, very wrong.
I think this is my sixth year photographing this event. Some years it feels like we’re making such wonderful progress, some years it feels like this event will never end.
I wasn’t involved with OAR in the early days. Stories of those early cleanups included the use of cranes to remove cars from the river and mountains of tires. Just a few years ago a large number of tires were removed from the river just behind the Elks Club here in Maynard. Last year a team reported that they couldn’t remove all of the tires they found in a site in Concord.
Bob Guba, who, as well as being the cleanup site coordinator in Acton, celebrated his 80th birthday today, mentioned that he continues to be amazed that each year they clean up a section of the river and they feel they’ve pretty much removed all the stuff — only to come back the following year and find more. And it’s not so much that new things are being thrown into the river (that still occurs, but not as much) — we’re still uncovering the decades upon decades of abuse that were piled upon this river.
This year the Maynard site almost brought me to tears.
We’ve had a pretty long spell of no rain in New England this year and the river was running quite low (except for a bit of rain earlier in the week we probably would have had a mud puddle cleanup). So the shoreline was pretty flat and muddy, with a bit of vegetation — but a lot of what is normally below the surface was right there to see.
Tires. Shopping carts. Tires. Junk. Tires. What the hell were people doing back then? I really can’t conceive of the mindset that made it OK to dump hundreds and hundreds of tires into the river. I’m sure OAR has a count somewhere from past cleanups, but just in Maynard I’ll bet the count is in the thousands. The Maynard DPW workers who help with the cleanup (thanks guys!) were surprised that there weren’t more truck tires in there… I think we’ll find them under the car tires.
And so we continue our efforts to save this river. Like many forms of pollution and environmental stress that we have today in the United States, much of it is invisible. Occasionally nature lets us see the damage we have inflicted upon this planet, but more oft than not it covers it over — and we think we’re doing a great job. The truth is not quite as rosy.