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By EILEEN DRENNEN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/17/06
A mist lay over the dark green Chattahoochee, shrouding the glassy surface in a gauzy haze. Scattered clouds kept it cool.
Tree-laden and intensely quiet, the river felt like a completely different world.
It was ancient and pristine, until you looked with the eyes of a trash hunter.
Then the stray plastic grocery bags and mud-clogged green beer bottles jumped out.
Seven volunteers, ages 14 to 57, had shown up at Up the River Outfitters in Sugar Hill on Tuesday morning to join the first cleanup collaboration between the recreational business and sports superstore REI.
Lauren Lance of Braselton and Elise Garrard of Hoschton, both 22, environmental studies majors and seniors, figured it was a smart way to spend their last days of freedom before heading back to Montreat College in Asheville, N.C. Lori Helman of Monroe, 44, heard about the outing through REI.
"I grew up on the Coosa River, so I've got the river in my blood," she said.
She hadn't been out on the water in years, though, and thought this was an ideal way to test the waters ? with a group ? and do some good along the way.
After watching a safety video and donning bright orange life preservers, the flock of trash hunters fanned out from the Buford Dam launch area. Armed only with orange net bags and pointy wooden poles used to spear errant soda cans and dislodge stubborn trash, they collected all they could from the river's banks and bottom and the branches of all its downed trees.
The 5-mile section of the river between Buford Dam and Settles Bridge usually takes two hours; volunteers stopped so often to spear cans or collect tangled fishing line that it stretched to four and a half hours.
Ryan Wright, manager of Up the River Outfitters, said he'd been working out the details of the cleanup since opening for business this past April. It was just "a good marriage" to be able to join forces with REI, he said, with its vast network of members, activities and volunteers. Next year, he said, he hopes to schedule cleanups monthly.
"I was very impressed at the amount of trash that we collected," said Wright of the 12 bags or roughly 100 pounds that volunteers picked up. "I was surprised that we'd done that much. It was a great effort by the people who came out ? and they did a great job of staying on task."
Biggest catch? That would be the tire, still attached to its rusted rim, that Roger Daniel of Buford and his daughter Hope dragged in. When asked how on Earth they'd collected it, in a kayak no less, Daniels was matter-of-fact. "It was light when it was under water," he said with a shrug. On land, he rolled and shook the water-logged wheel to dislodge what liquid he could.
There also was a mud-caked rug, half of a green wooden lawn chair and a yellow-wheeled Playskool roller skate.
Jeff Lance, an outreach specialist at REI's Buford store, found a lone white leather hightop ,a Pony, high up on one of the banks.
"Oh man," he said, "that shoe was hot, like, years ago."
Now 26, he'd traded his kayak for a bike in college. It had been awhile since he'd been out on the river he'd fished often as a kid.
In September, he starts his National Guard training at Fort Benning. On this morning, he said, he was grateful to be giving back to the river that had given him so much.
Aside from the great blue herons and kingfishers skimming the surface for breakfast, only a handful of fishermen were about. They were casting off from the river's edge, floating downstream by boat or staking out promising spots clad in waders and fancy headgear.
Experienced paddlers John Miller of Lawrenceville and Bonny Putney of Buford brought their own kayaks. Miller, who said he "found kayaks two years ago" and has been a river rat ever since, circled around first-timers in his blue Necky and shared tips on getting through the stretch's few rough spots.
Putney, who's lived on Lake Lanier for 20-plus years, is part of the volunteer cleanup effort Rivers Alive. She's out on the Chattahoochee in her red Hobie two or three times a week, she said, but wanted to support Up the River's partnership with REI.
"I see them out on the river all the time and think it's great to see them bring more and more people to the river," Putney said. "It's great they're doing something to give back to something they derive so much pleasure and profit from."
Wright said he picks up whatever he can every time he's out here.
"We have to be a steward of the water," he said. "We're not just here to make a dollar and rent some rafts. We really do care."
Back at Up the River's headquarters on Cumming Highway on Tuesday, he made sure tired volunteers picked up a complementary T-shirt and a blue neoprene water bottle.
Daniels, who'd raced off ahead of the pack that morning and hauled in the catch of the day at the trip's end, said he'd gladly spend another day cleaning up the Chattahoochee.
"It was a blast," he said.