After seven years of cleaning the Connoquenessing Creek, Christina Handley is still surprised by what she and other volunteers fish out of the creek.
This year is no exception. The crews found two dumpsters, possibly pushed into the creek during flooding from the season's unusually heavy rainfall.
Stormy weather throughout the region earlier this year made the annual cleanup more difficult for the 90 volunteers with the Allegheny Aquatic Alliance who floated down the creek Saturday, said Handley, who is the organization's vice president.
The alliance focused on a 16-mile stretch between McCalmont Road in Butler Township and Zelienople in the 50-mile creek. A second cleanup will be held Sept. 7.
“A lot of backyard debris and man-made goods were swept into the creek this year, so we have to take it all out,” Handley said.
Every year the group chooses a section to clean until they reach the end of the creek. In 2018, they reached that end point where the Connoquenessing Creek flows into the Beaver River.
This year, they retraced their steps, giving Handley the opportunity to reflect on the work the group has done since she helped cofound it in 2012.
“We were very naive when we started this,” Handley said. “We thought, 'Oh it will just take five years to clean up and then we'd move on to another river or creek.'
“But now we know better. It's always going to be an ongoing project. We've devoted ourselves fully to this waterway. People are living around it, so the trash going into the creek will never stop.”
Along with the two dumpsters, which will have to be removed at a later date, Handley said the group has to contend with debris from an entire camp and a riding mower that washed into the creek this spring when the rushing water overran its banks.
Handley hopes that people in the area will begin to take notice of items in their backyards that could find their way into the creek.
“We're hoping that with more recreational use people are valuing this natural resource and they'll work to protect it,” Handley said.
At one section of the creek, Dean Catalana of Zelienople and Robert Green of Butler walked down the ankle-deep creek with metal canoes carrying tires and debris they and other volunteers found during the cleanup. They came upon a tire wedged underneath a rug.
“People put these on the banks to stop mud from going in the creek,” Catalana said. He began working the tire with a crowbar to dislodge it. Others helped using shovels and an ax.
“They thought it was a good idea at the time. Now, it doesn't seem like such a good idea.”