Residents unite to clear trash from Rahway River

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Steady rainfall didn’t stop South Orange residents from pulling on their galoshes and wading into the Rahway River to celebrate River Day on Sunday, May 5, cleaning trash out of the village’s section of the waterway and planting trees along the banks. The annual event at Cameron Field has filled a 1-ton truck four times in past years, and this year the truck was again on hand to cart away the debris.

“We try to make it an educational thing,” South Orange Trustee Walter Clarke, the liaison to the South Orange Environmental Commission, said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “We want to make people aware of the watershed. Things that are thrown into the sewers eventually makes their way into the river and then into the ocean.”

Clarke said residents have pulled some interesting things out of the river in the last decade. Every year there’s at least one shopping cart or stroller, and he once even found a bowling ball. When trash remains in the river, it depletes the natural wildlife that keeps the water clean.

“The more surface area is paved, the faster things will run to the river,” Clarke said. “So plants with roots help that. We want to plant as many things that are supposed to be there as possible so the local wildlife comes back.”

James McGowan, a former member of the Environmental Commission and a River Day founder, said the cleanup has been working.

“There’s different species of birds around, turtles are coming back, fish are coming back,” McGowan said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “So it’s a better environment for them. Anything that goes into the storm drains goes into the river and eventually the ocean, and we don’t want that to happen.”

McGowan also said that cleaning the river is a way for South Orange residents to make an environmental difference.

“We have kindergarteners to senior citizens coming every year,” he said. “It’s a great community event because they can get out and see that they’re making a difference.”

The day before South Orange’s River Day, a similar event took place in Maplewood, with residents gathering to clean trash out of Maplewood’s section of the Rahway River.

Photos by Amanda Valentovic