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Frank Gray

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A Girl Scout group collects trash from the Maumee River on Earth Day 2010. The annual river cleanup effort east of downtown is Sunday.

Cleanup on Maumee grows each Earth Day

Eight years ago, Abigail King started an organization called Save the Maumee Grassroots Organization and started pushing to clean up the river – all by herself.

It was a tough go, being the head of an organization with a lofty name and a big goal – and one member.

Still, she demanded attention anywhere she could find it and begged for what she called burly men and anyone else willing to help to show up on Earth Day every year and haul junk and trash out of the river.

She mooched tools and trash bags and seed to plant native grasses along the banks to prevent erosion.

King got the attention she wanted. Every year, volunteers would haul tons of junk out of the river – appliances, tires, you name it – and every year they seemed to find a little more junk than they did the year before.

Well, Sunday is the next Earth Day, and King is again calling for more volunteers to show up from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Niagara Drive, off North Anthony Boulevard, on the north side of Hosey Dam, to clean the river.

I had to ask King one thing, though. Every year, the cleanup effort has resulted in two to four tons of trash and junk being plucked out of the river. It was as though nothing ever changed. Every year, another two to four tons. Haven’t people gotten the message that it’s not nice to throw refrigerators and tires and other stuff into the river?

That’s when King gave me some surprising news. Over the years, she said, the annual effort has removed most of what she called historic trash – appliances, tires, oil drums, items that might have been in the river for years.

“Now we have to hunt it down,” King said.

An office desk has been spotted, and it’s one of the big targets for this year’s effort. Not long ago, someone actually found a yoke. King called it “a huge animal-pulling thing” used by draft animals. It might have been in the river for decades.

Most of what remains is small trash, such as plastic, Styrofoam, cigarette butts, line and lures left by fishermen, and plenty of what King calls weird stuff – cellphones, wallets, construction equipment and an occasional safe.

The number of people showing up on Earth Day is also increasing. King has now accumulated about 50 shovels for volunteers to use, but they’re a hot commodity when 400 people show up, so she recommends that people bring their own shovels.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of planting of native grasses and trees.

What started as an annual day of dirty grunt work has now evolved into more of a carnival, King says. There will be food and bands and games and other activities, but there are still plenty of opportunities to get dirty, and there is still a need for burly men.

An online brochure, including lots of rules, a liability release and cautions (don’t pick up meth labs) can be found at

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.