'Stream Sweepers' Clean Up Robinson River in Madison

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High school and college students working for a central Virginia environmental organization were on the Robinson River in Madison County Friday, combing the water and shoreline for trash.

The Center for Natural Capital in Orange County created the Stream Sweepers program to improve local ecosystems and establish a new business model for environmental endeavors. The program's 13 students from central Virginia are sweeping streams on foot and by boat to help clean up the environment.

"These employees over the summer will collect thousands and thousands of pounds of junk." said Michael Collins, the executive director of the Center for Natural Capital.

Along the shorelines and in the Robinson River, workers never know what they're going to find.

“Tractor tires, furniture, couches, appliances and they've even run into old oil drums that are actually leaking oil that we have to try to find a way to get out of the river,” Collins stated.

Land owners contract the students to test the water quality and clean the areas of the river that adjoin their property.

The Center for Natural Capital says the program is creating a unique business model. "We basically develop a custom game plan for each year that's based on the type of service that the land owners support," Collins said.

Organizers say summertime is the best time to access and clean the more than 40 miles of river.

"This work has to be done when the river is low because that's when a lot of the junk and debris and trash that is in the river channel is exposed. You can't get to it when the water is high,” Collins explained. “So those months of June, July and August not only coincide with the academic year, but it just so happens that that’s also the only time that the entirety of the cleaning process can be done."

Dragging all kinds of debris from the muck to the surface isn't easy but students can't complain about earning their summer savings outdoors.

“It's hard work when you get right down to it, but I mean floating on a river for eight hours-ish a day is a pretty cool summer job I’d say," said crew member Cory Anderson.

The Stream Sweepers crews finish up their work on the river in late August and will spend the fall and winter months analyzing the data they collect.

This is the program's second year thanks to a $50,000 grant from Dominion Virginia Power.

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