LORAIN — They were willing to get dirty to clean up the Black River.
Some 280 volunteers took part this weekend in the second annual Take Back the Black cleanup, organizers said Sunday. Co-organizer Stephanee Moore said the turnout was comparable to last year, which was “amazing” because last year’s weather was better.
Last year, volunteers collected about 6.6 tons of debris. Moore said it is too early to estimate how much debris was collected this year, but she expects it will be similar to last year’s amount.
Moore and her fiancé, Robb Koscho, along with volunteer Josh Notley, are founders of the LoCo ’Yaks, a Lorain-based nonprofit kayaking and paddle sports group promoting boating. Kayak trips on the Black River, historically one of Ohio’s most polluted waterways, inspired them to organize the cleanup.
“When we take our friends out on the river, it was just so disgusting,” Notley said. “(So is) the label that the river’s carried for a long time as being so dirty.”
Decades of runoff of slag, residue of metallic ore from nearby steel plants, led the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to designate the Black River as an “area of concern” in 1990. Pollution remains a problem for the Black River and Lake Erie.
A 2012 report by Environment America — a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that analyzed federal Environmental Protection Agency data — found that among Ohio waterways, Lake Erie had the 10th-most toxins in 2010. The Black River ranked 31st.
The Ohio EPA recommends people eat only one meal of sport fish per week caught in Ohio waterways, including the Black River, because of heavy contamination of mercury, a toxic element. Sport fish include bass, trout and walleye.
Nevertheless, Notley said, cleanups like the one this weekend are making a difference. The cleanup is part of an overall restoration effort.
In 2012, Lorain received a $960,000 federal taxpayer grant to remove invasive plants and restore 30 acres of habitat in 2013 and this year. The grant was renewed this year for 2015 and 2016.
Environmentalists say birds, fish and wildlife that deserted the river have returned in recent years. Notley, 38, said he grew up near the river and has seen improvement.
Notley said the river should be a source of pride, and illegal dumpers need to be prosecuted. Among the debris hauled off Sunday from Black River Wharf were car parts, industrial barrels and tires. Notley said volunteers searched for names in mail and on the prescription pill bottles of trash they found to help track down polluters.
Notley said many Lorain-area residents have little awareness or appreciation of the river. “We think if they come down (to help clean the river), they would,” he said.
Besides the wharf, industrial-size trash bins were placed at Black River Landing, near the U.S. Steel Lorain Tubular Operations on East 28th Street and next to the Spitzer Park Marina on Lakeside Avenue. Organizers said local companies assisting included Chemtron Demolition of Avon Lake, which provided a small front-end loader, Diggers Excavating of Amherst, which provided a backhoe, and Republic Allied Waste, which provided the bins.
Robert Fowler, owner of Grumpy’s Bait Bucket, a bait and tackle shop at the wharf, said he’s grateful for the volunteers. He hopes the cleanup will inspire future efforts.
“It’s great for the river and it’s great for my business,” he said. “It’s a beautiful river. The more people who can enjoy it, the better.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.