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Cleaning up the Susquehanna River in Sunbury

Volunteers say they found lots of plastic, tires, and even masks.

SUNBURY, Pa. — Earth Day is coming up this week and community members in Sunbury were out early Sunday cleaning up the Susquehanna River.

“It’s always great to be able to give back to the community and get out there and help out,” Rick Alvarez, a volunteer, said. Alvarez has been fishing the Susquehanna for 25 years.

“Oh my goodness,” he said, “it just seems like it’s getting worse each year. A lot of pollution.”

That’s why Alvarez came out to the cleanup – organized by the Susquehanna River Cleanup Project – Sunday morning. He even lent his boat to the cause.

Danielle Bronowicz, Susquehanna River Project’s chairperson, says the project is in its ninth year.

“It should be our tenth,” she said, “but we couldn’t do it last year because of COVID.”

Bronowicz says being benched last year didn’t help:

“The amount of trash we picked up this year,” she said, “So to think that it’s been accumulating for two years, it’s no surprise what we found and what we have picked up.”

But it’s not just the amount of trash that volunteers noticed – also, the type of trash seemed different due to the pandemic.

“With all the takeout food, all the plastics,” Bronowicz said.

Stevi Witcoskie says she’s been volunteering with the cleanup for the past few years.

“We found a lot of masks and needles,” Witcoskie said. “We found some needles the other years, just not as bad. But the masks and gloves are an issue.”

Of course, not all the trash was pandemic-related. Jonathan Simpson, volunteering for the first time with this cleanup, says there was a whole variety.

“Bottles, tires, just a lot of trash,” Simpson said.

But Bronowicz says volunteers seemed more enthusiastic this year.

“If anything good came out of the whole pandemic,” she said, “we’re outside more enjoying nature.”

From repeat volunteers like Stevi Witcoskie –

“It’s just nice being outside again among other people,” Witcoskie said.

--To first-timers like Jonathan Simpson:

“I just came to help because I’ve been fishing down here since I was 12,” he said.

This year, more than 100 volunteers helped out, covering a large span:

“From the marina to Rt. 11, along the river wall,” Bronowicz said.

Bronowicz says this was a huge community effort: from the local businesses sponsoring, donating food, and helping with the disposal to volunteers and local fishermen – like Rick Alvarez.

“We must have brought in six or seven loads of tires and debris and all kinds of recyclables,” Alvarez said.

The Susquehanna River cleanup crew says, on average, they pick up about 6,000 pounds of trash. Project organizers say they won’t know the total poundage until Monday. But they say they cleaned up more than 100 tires, which amounts to 3,000 pounds alone.