Fall flood will mean more trash for Ashley River cleanup volunteers

Trash from the 1,000-Year Flood at Sawmill Branch in Summerville. Photo by George McDaniel.

When volunteers hit the waters next month to help clean up the upper Ashley River, organizers from the Summerville Saltwater Anglers fishing club hope for about twice the turnout of a year ago when the cleanup netted more than a dumpster of trash.

Even with twice the number of participants, it may not be enough thanks to the 1,000-year flood that took place in early October. Much of the trash appears to come from ditches that drain into the river, so the extraordinary rainfall flushed much more trash into the waterway.

“George McDaniel, the executive director emeritus of Drayton Hall (a plantation on the Ashley River) provided a picture from Sawmill Branch, which is like a big ditch that weaves through Summerville. It was taken at Sawmill Branch where it crosses Dorchester Road right after the flood. You won’t believe the amount of trash there, and it’s an indication of what we’re going to find,” Summerville Saltwater Anglers member David Fladd said.

“What I’ve seen in the river looks just like this photo. It’s saddening. People that participate will have very mixed feelings. They’re going to feel very good about what they did because they can see a visible difference. But you will also feel sick to your stomach because you know you’ve only scratched the surface.”

This will be the third year of the project, an idea spawned by club members Fladd and Ralph Phillips who regularly fish the upper Ashley in the winter and were disheartened by the amount of trash. Their target area is a 3½-mile stretch of river from Jessen Landing at the intersection of Dorchester and Ladson roads down to Middleton Plantation. If the number of volunteers allow, they will expand the working area.

The first year of the project, seven or eight boats returned with 45 bags of trash that filled a stake-side truck. Last year 60 club members and volunteers working out of 17 boats collected 118 bags of trash plus a lot of other stuff that wouldn’t fit into the trash bags for a net haul of 3.2 tons.

Most of the debris is plastics – children’s toys, bottles, balls of all kind, but they’ve also collected large pieces of Styrofoam, paint cans, oil cans, tires, a baby crib and a shopping cart.

Fladd says the project has received lots of community support. He said Dorchester County, the city of Summerville and the Ashley River Scenic Council have both been extremely helpful. Triangle Char and Bar on Dorchester Road is once again providing lunches. The Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina is letting the club use its two “oyster barges” as collection points that will be anchored in the river, giving volunteers more time should they fill their own boat.

“It’s almost too bad that this is just a once a year thing,” Fladd said. “I’d love to see other organizations take this up as well as a community service project.

“Probably a lot of people in Summerville don’t realize how pretty it is up there. You see trash in the ditches and think ‘It’s not my problem. Out of sight, out of mind.’ But until you go in that river and see where it all ends up you don’t realize how bad it is. It makes you angry.”