Chainsaws whistled against fallen trees limbs and the strain from the Jeep's wench caused enough disturbance in the woods to make any spectator's hands sweat with anticipation of the destined mud, sludge, and decayed trash they were about to encounter! The smell of exhaust clouds from the overheating Jeep were shortly overpowered by the stench of garbage and discolored bottles with "who knows what" inside.
This past Saturday more than 80 good-willed volunteers arrived for a Stringer's Ridge clean up day. What began as the first official clean up in response to the recent purchase by The Trust for Public Land (TPL) of 92 acres of wooded land in North Chattanooga evolved into a raucous of volunteers seemingly willing to bathe in rotten trash and dark chocolate colored mud, all for the sake of a cleaner Stringer's Ridge.
"The success of the day can be measured by the number of people who showed up with a genuine interest and concern in turning Stringer's into a usable piece of land" says Rock/Creek co-owner and land preservation advocate, Dawson Wheeler: "From the supporting groups such as SORBA, TPL, The Boonies and Rock/Creek, it was inspiring to see this many people come, willing to work HARD!" Over two million dollars has been raised from public and private donors to help save the land from development. Grassroots efforts have been an instrumental part of the fundraising. Organized pledges have also helped, and one such campaign, "The Rock/Creek Challenge," continues today. Rock/Creek has agreed to match customers' contributions up to $5,000, and has already donated $2,000 toward this matching gift.
Volunteers rolled hundreds of tires up a drainage valley apparently designated by the less environmentally-conscious as the local dumping spot. Volunteers filled a large dumpster provided by the city with trash, and more bags remain at the trail head to be hauled off this week. Local field organizer and wilderness advocate Jeffrey Hunter volunteered and had this to say: "I enjoyed picking up trash. Those truck tires were tough to handle though. I left at 11 AM tired, muddy & satisfied." A common theme during the work day was the surprising amount of commercial dumping that has occurred at Stringer's. The quantity of trash collected between the relatively short period of 9am to 1pm was so tremendous that a second construction-sized dumpster will be required to pick up the remainder of the trash bags from the first clean up attempt. A large amount of trash remains on the site for future trail days. Volunteers also constructed metal barriers that will prevent vehicular access by those wishing to dump trash on this land.
The Stringer's Ridge land was purchased through TPL as a result of support from citizens, multiple local businesses, corporations and non-profit organizations such as SORBA and The Boonies. The campaign is largely community-driven, with little government assistance and minimal Chattanooga press interest. As a result, this effort has taken deep roots in the hearts of self-motivated Chattanoogans who want to see improvements to their neighboring green spaces.
"We were asked numerous times by people from neighboring North Chattanooga, the bike clubs and the trail runners 'when are we going to do maintenance?'" explains Trust for Public Land Field Organizer, Rick Wood: " It just goes to prove that people really care and show interest in the ridge. For example, organized groups are already asking permission to go build up trails and solve erosion issues."
On Saturday, in a brief time span of four hours, volunteers filled more than 110 (45 gallons each) trash bags full of garbage. "I think we were all a little surprised at the amount of JUNK that was up there, but we were able to truly see the needs of the land" says Wood.
When asked how this first clean up attempt effected the future of Stringer's Ridge, Rick had this to say: "Yes, we made a dent, but it really opened our eyes to some 'hot spots' which will require hours of work, and heavy machinery to pull huge commercial truck and tractor tires out of the mud."
Despite the fact that this major land purchase nears completion, TPL still needs donation momentum to assist with future clean up expenses and the final purchase. For those in the Chattanooga community wanting to help, there will be a second major clean up day scheduled in early fall. More volunteers are needed, and any machinery that can be loaned or donated for use will be tremendously welcomed.
To get involved today, take The Rock/Creek Challenge online: http://www.rockcreek.com/stringers/
Future trail days will be posted here.