12th annual Sweep the Hooch continues mission to clean waterways

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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Despite the rainy weather, the 12th annual Sweep the Hooch took place on Saturday. Participants from the headwaters North of Atlanta down to West Point Lake came to clean up trash along the Chattahoochee River. 

Over 1,400 people went to the 66 clean-up sites along the river and its waterways. Just at one site on West Point Lake, almost 40 bags of trash were collected from the lake’s shore. The clean-up had been delayed an hour, so those bags were what was picked up in two hours. 

Since the event’s inception in 2011, volunteers have collected over 410,349 pounds of trash and over 55,000 pounds of recycling. The numbers for this year are still being calculated. 

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There were two clean-up spots at West Point Lake, one at McGee Bridge Park and another on the west side of the lake at Liberty Hill Recreation Area. The Middle Chattahoochee Sierra Club group headed up the effort at McGee, where VTN caught up with some of the organizers. 

One of the organizers Joanne Vandewater, said that the group has been doing Sweep the Hooch for the last seven years, with many Sierra Club members also members of CRK. This was their second year cleaning up at McGee. According to Vandewater, this year was the biggest attendance yet, with 21 people. 

“Things are a little different this year. There are fewer plastic bottles but lots and lots of styrofoam,” Vandewater said.

“Usually the beach is bigger because the water is lower, so I think [some trash] may have floated back out. But because of all the rain and I heard the floodgates are open in Atlanta, the water is a lot higher right now,” Vandewater explained. 

She added that there were more tree debris and erosion visible for this reason. Trash was caught in tree roots that were visible due to the erosion. 

“There’s two little coves that were just chock full of trash, but it’s hard to get down there because it’s steep,” Vendewater said.

Despite the early rain and challenges, all 21 volunteers were out climbing over the tree debris in order to pick up as much trash as possible. Some of the most interesting finds are insulin pens, three tires, a diaper, multiple vape cartridges and a sweater. Most of the items found were plastic bottles and wrappers, as well as lots of broken-up styrofoam. 

The Middle Chattahoochee Group does outings, informational meetings and other events in an effort to educate people on the environment, and the challenges it faces. 

“We like to get people out, so they’re enjoying the environment, learning things,” said Cathy Knight, the co-chairperson of the group. 

Laura Breyfogle is the outings leader. In April, she plans to take a group hiking at Pine Mountain to see and learn about the mountain laurels that bloom there. Vandewater also leads groups on a boat to monitor the bluebird nests around the lake.

The group hosts monthly meetings with guest speakers to teach members about an environmental topic. They do advocacy work, currently working to save the Okefenokee Swamp from being used for mining. The Inflation Reduction Act is also a point of interest for the group. 

The federal act passed in 2022 to address climate change. Funding and tax credits were provided for clean energy users, homeowners who put solar panels up, or drivers who have electric vehicles for example. It also funded projects to develop clean energy technology, water resilience in areas vulnerable to droughts and energy upgrades for rural agriculture communities, among others.