Volunteers conducted a clean sweep at the Georgia 121 landing on the Satilla River.

The Satilla Riverkeeper reports that the riverwide cleanup effort on Saturday, Sept. 21, was a huge success.
“These cleanups make such a huge impact in a single day,” said Laura Early, the Satilla Riverkeeper. “In addition to removing the trash, we hope it also brings attention to the issue and gets us as a community thinking about long-term solutions to prevent trash from getting to the river in the first place.”
Volunteers participated at 11 sites stretched across more than 200 miles of river, from the headwaters in Coffee County to the estuaries in Camden and Glynn counties.
More than 130 volunteers arrived at 9 a.m. Volunteers picked up trash along the riverbanks for two hours before heading to Twin Oaks Bluegrass Park for a complimentary lunch provided by Chick-fil-A of Waycross and a celebration of all the hard work.
“Volunteering to give back to the community in any way is a vital part of improving a society,” said volunteer Cheston Bromell, a resident of Glynn County who helped at the Turtle River site on Highway 99. “We all have an obligation, in my mind, to help to improve our area if we want a more beautiful and enriching place to live.”
This year, Satilla Riverkeeper introduced some friendly competitions among the 11 cleanup sites. The largest volunteer crew was led by the Pierce Chamber of Commerce at the public landing at Georgia 121 between Blackshear and Hoboken.
About 65 volunteers covered ground on both sides of the river, pulling out everything from mattress springs to common litter items like bottles and cans.
Students from Patterson Elementary and Pierce County Middle School contributed much hard work and some optimism for the future.
Volunteers directed their attention to a small but potent litter problem, the cigarette butt. The volunteers at the Woodbine Riverwalk tallied the most cigarette butts, 186. Across all 11 cleanup sites, volunteers tallied 850 cigarette butts.
Cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in the nation. Contrary to common belief, the butts are made of plastic and do not easily degrade in the environment. The butt also contains concentrated toxins filtered out of the smoke. These toxins leach out into the water body, harming fish and other wildlife.
There were several unusual items picked up during the cleanup this year. Keeley Rhae Johnson, Alana Watkins and Ashley Carter took home the people’s choice award for “weirdest find” for the tarot card, candle and $5 cash they found at the Georgia 121 landing.
A VHS tape found at Jamestown Landing was a close runner-up.
Popular river access points along the Satilla are known for their chronic trash problems. Trash negatively impacts the river’s water quality, the public’s recreational experience, wildlife, fishes, and eventually makes its way to the ocean impacting marine life as well. The Satilla Riverkeeper hopes that through continued cleanup efforts “such as these we will help bring awareness to the issue,” Early said.
A large portion of the items volunteers pick up are single-use disposable items such as plastic grocery bags, plastic beverage bottles, styrofoam cups, disposable forks, straws, etc.
“Can we as a society and individuals change our habits to create less waste in the first place?” Early asks.
This event was conducted in partnership with Rivers Alive, Georgia’s annual volunteer waterway cleanup event that targets all waterways in the state including streams, rivers, lakes, beaches and wetlands. The mission of Rivers Alive is to create awareness of and involvement in the preservation of Georgia’s water resources.
In addition to partnering with Rivers Alive, Satilla Riverkeeper would like to thank the following community partners that contributed to our efforts and helped make this event a success: Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, Friends of the Satilla River; Keep Brantley Beautiful and Litter Free; Pierce County Chamber of Commerce; South Georgia Regional Commission; Republic Services; Advanced Disposal; Local Waste Services; American Rivers; Chick-fil-A Waycross; Twin Oaks Bluegrass Park; Yarbrough’s Printing; Seven Rivers; Lee Hardware, Waycross; Frosty Freeze, Nahunta; Earth Inspired Kids; Kingfisher Paddleventures; and Blackshear Church of God.
“Fortunately, we have seen a positive trend at this site that shows a significant reduction in littering and illegal dumping. For the first time since the Satilla Riverkeeper started hosting this site in 2017, we didn’t find any tires! Our volunteers greatly expanded the area they were picking up trash in to keep busy for the whole 2.5 hours of the cleanup event. The most common items were the ‘typical’ littered items: cigarette butts, beer and cans bottles, plastic bottles, and some fishing line,” said Rachael Thompson, Glynn Environmental Coalition, the site leader at the Turtle River at Highway 99 cleanup site.
“Cleanup events like the Satilla riverwide cleanup are so vital to protecting aquatic wildlife and preserving our waterways. Volunteers have the opportunity to stop pollution in its tracks, preventing the litter from making to the river, stream, or estuary nearby.” Thompson said.
“Overall, it was better than I expected. We had a great time!” Lea King-Badyna, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, site leader for the Little Satilla River site at U.S. 17.
If anyone would like to host a river cleanup for a family, school, church, or scout group, contact the Satilla Riverkeeper at (912) 462-5094 or riverkeeper@satillariverkeepr.org
Satilla Riverkeeper is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2004 whose mission is to protect, restore and educate about the unique and beautiful black-water Satilla River. To learn more about our work, visit www.satillariverkeeper.org