There were mixed emotions as members of the Summerville Saltwater Anglers loaded their boats back onto their trailers last weekend at Jessen Landing on the upper Ashley River.
They were both happy and sad about the results of a four-hour cleanup project over a three-mile stretch of river. During that short period of time they plucked enough 45-gallon contractor bags of trash from the river to fill a stake-side truck to overflowing. The river is cleaner than it was, but there's plenty more trash out there.
"To be honest I wasn't sure how successful we would be. Would we fill three bags? Would we have all these people organized to go out and try really hard and not have much to show for it?" said club president David Fladd.
"Boy, was I wrong! It was sad how much trash there was and there's that much more easily to get. There probably are several more truckloads of trash in the river. We could have spent all day and been going nonstop."
Twenty-eight club members participated in the event and Fladd said all of them were disgusted with the amount of trash in the Ashley.
"For some reason it doesn't seem to be that way in other rivers. Is there some source way up the river that's washing trash in? If that's the case we need to stop it," he said.
Fladd said the Summerville Saltwater Anglers, a family-oriented club, was formed in 2011, and early on the club decided to adopt the Ashley River and do community service projects related to the river.
One of the club's projects has been working with the Department of Natural Resources' SCORE (South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Project) to establish an oyster reef in the Ashley River.
"We asked them years ago if they had a place big enough that we could do an oyster reef and every year keep adding to it, and 20 years out have a mile-long oyster reef," Fladd said. "We identified an area down by the (U.S. Highway) 17 bridge on the west bank and have planted for two years. We have 400 yards."
The cleanup project idea started last fall when Fladd and club founder Ralph Phillips, who are partners in a small business venture, were fishing the Ashley River and noticed a lot of trash. The two kicked around the idea of a cleanup day and picked a date.
"We decided to work from 8-12 and have a cookout when we were done, and we decided we wouldn't tackle too much of the river," Fladd said, "from Jessen Landing here in Summerville down to the Middleton (Plantation) no-wake zone, about three miles.
"I made a map of that section of the river and divided it into seven zones about equal length. We had a captain's meeting and I assigned them a number. I put landmarks on the map so they would know where to work, and I can tell you they weren't close to being able to complete their zones."
"I'm going to need more bags, we've already filled two and it will take two more to finish this area," club member Joey Taylor told Fladd when he returned to the landing 30 minutes after the event began.
Fladd said the most common trash collected was plastic or glass bottles. Second to that, he said, were plastic toys and "any kind of ball you could imagine, basketballs, baseballs, tennis balls, footballs, everything. And there were Whiffle ball baits."
There also was a plastic child's basketball hoop that had been a fishing landmark, a tire with a rim, five-gallon buckets of contractor supplies, coolers and big chunks of closed-cell foam.
The club had a shuttle boat to ferry debris back to the landing where it was loaded into a work truck donated by Phillips.
Fladd said the club plans to continue tackling the Ashley River trash on an annual basis and may join up with the formal Beach and River Sweep.