Cherokee Nation citizen part of effort to remove litter from Oklahoma River

BY STAFF REPORTS
08/24/2020 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Volunteers remove litter from the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City this summer. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A pickup truck is full of trash bags of litter and other debris taken from the Oklahoma River. According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation more than 60% of littering is deliberate. COURTESY
OKLAHOMA CITY – Riversport Lifestyle Manager and Cherokee Nation citizen Brent Allen is leading a new collaborative initiative focused on solving the problem of litter and debris along the Oklahoma River.

Riversport Adventure Parks in Oklahoma City offers outdoor urban adventures for the whole family. Whitewater rafting and tubing, adventure courses, zip lines, high speed slides, extreme jumping, climbing walls, pump tracks, sailing, flat-water kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and more are open daily in the summer and on weekends spring and fall.

“The Oklahoma River is an amazing recreational gem for Oklahoma City,” said Mike Knopp, Riversport executive director. “Unfortunately, every time it rains, we are dealing with trash that gets washed down from upstream. If trash is thrown out a car window or dropped on the ground, it often ends up in a river. Every urban waterway deals with this issue, and we want to be part of the global movement to put an end to it”

Riversport’s “River Protectors” want to remove the trash that’s already coming downstream, but long term, create a cultural shift to eliminate trash at its source. “River Protectors” is partnering with “OKC Beautiful” to complete a series of clean-up events over the next few weeks and is inviting volunteers to join the effort.

“We are looking for either individuals or groups to help pick up and catalog the trash along the river,” Allen said.

The North Canadian River travels from Colorado through New Mexico into the Texas Panhandle and on to what eventually becomes the Oklahoma River.

“When it rains, trash from upstream is washed down and gets trapped here along our docks,” Allen said. “We can do temporary clean ups, but we really need to create that cultural shift that drives lasting change. As consumers, we have to get away from Styrofoam and single-use plastics or it will be like Groundhog Day – the trash will keep coming and we’ll be doing the same thing over and over.”

According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation more than 60% of littering is deliberate, roughly 55% of all littering occurs along rural and urban highways and when it comes to parks and recreational areas, pedestrians, primarily younger than 25, account for greater than 76% of all littering.

The “River Protector” initiative is also cataloging the trash to define the scope and source of the problem.

Using the free Litterati app (available for Android and OS at https://www.litterati.org/), Allen and his volunteers have retrieved and cataloged more than 15,000 pieces of trash during six weeks this summer. The two most common forms of trash found in the river are single-use plastics such as water and soda bottles and Styrofoam cups, plates and to-go containers.

“The Litterati app allows us to photograph and tag trash with a GPS locator so we can work on data-driven solutions,” Allen said. “We have to move away from these single-use items that once created are on this planet forever. In the short term, they are killing fish, birds and sea creatures. Long term, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces with micro-plastics making their way into our oceans and our bodies. As Styrofoam degrades, it releases toxic chemicals.”

Using plastics and Styrofoam is “convenient,” Allen added, but today there are “lots of options” that are better for the environment.

“We need volunteers to help pick up the trash, but we also need people to ask their restaurants and retailers to offer more eco-friendly alternatives than Styrofoam and plastic,” he said. “We understand it’s a process. Riversport is working to get there just like everyone else. It’s a journey that begins with that first step.”

Allen, 55, said he recently moved back to Oklahoma after 28 years “to be of service” to his home state. Protecting the environment is a cause he believes in, and he said he wants “to make a difference.”

Litter pick-up supplies including grabbers, buckets, nets for smaller items, biohazard containers, and coffee bean bags (rather than plastic bags) are provided by the “River Protector” initiative via donations from Lowes and Eôte’Coffee.

Groups interested in participating in a planned clean-up event can call “OKC Beautiful” at 405-525-8822 to learn more. Individuals can participate using the Litterati app. Sign-up is available at riversportokc.org/riverprotectors or by emailing info@riversportokc.org.

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