WEST ORANGE, NJ — Sean Coxe had to get creative when coming up with a plan to clean the two and a half miles of the Rahway River that run through West Orange, because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions won’t allow for a regular gathering. But he still managed to recruit small groups of people to help him with his Eagle Scout project for West Orange’s Troop 6. Forty-two people picked trash out of the river between Degnan Park and the Orange Reservoir on Sept. 12.
“The river unfortunately has a large amount of trash that has collected at various points, which is not only an eyesore to visitors to the path around the Reservoir, where there is a very visible berm collecting trash for everyone to see, but is also harmful to our natural ecosystem here in West Orange,” Coxe said in a Sept. 20 email to the West Orange Chronicle.
Coxe adjusted his plan, keeping family groups together and assigning them to specific sections of the river. He provided all of the cleaning supplies.
“I had some older volunteers that I had to assign to spots where they could work from the banks instead of in the water, and I had families with younger children that I assigned to more shallow areas with less work,” he said. “I also had to have some groups closer together to tackle a huge amount of garbage and construction and landscaping debris that had been dumped into the river.”
Coxe and his cleanup crew dragged 63 bags of trash out of the river, in addition to a litany of larger, more surprising items.
“Street signs, car batteries, 27 bottles of Belvino Pinot Grigio, a lawn mower, a grill, trash cans, metal poles, pots, a hand truck, cinder blocks, lumber, and the weirdest of all, a 4-foot-tall wooden garden gnome,” Coxe said. “In all, everyone did an amazing job, and the river is much cleaner because of it!”
The river cleanup is just the beginning of Coxe’s project. Now he’s working on solutions to help keep the river clean long-term by building trash-collecting floating berms, which he can make himself at a lower cost than the ones already used at the reservoir. A prototype is currently set up in the river on Buckingham Road for testing purposes.
“Once installed, I am also setting up a schedule to have these berms cleaned regularly by Troop 6 Scouts, who need to perform conservation and community service hours for their rank advancement,” Coxe said. “Overall, this cleanup cleaned a huge amount of trash currently in the river, and the berms we are installing will help keep the river clean of trash going forward.”
Photos Courtesy of Sean Coxe