By Madhu Rajaraman
WASHINGTON (April 7, 2011) Unpaid parking tickets, a prosthetic leg and a Vespa scooter were among the unusual items found at last year's Potomac Watershed Cleanup, an annual event expected to draw thousands of volunteers this Saturday to sites in Washington and surrounding states.
But if a federal government shutdown goes into effect Friday, due to a congressional impasse on federal budget negotiations, site leaders on federal land would be required to cancel or reschedule their cleanups.
And cleanups that aren't on federal park sites may also postpone or cancel, said Dolly Davis, a community activist and site leader for the cleanup planned at Pope Branch Park in Washington.
The watershed cleanup, organized by the Alice Ferguson Foundation in conjunction with local volunteers and environmental groups, drew more than 15,000 volunteers in 2010 and was expected to exceed that number this year.
"At our first cleanup (23 years ago), there were only 10 people," said Becky Horner, Potomac River Watershed Cleanup coordinator. "It just snowballed each year."
More than 400 sites in four states and the District have registered for Saturday's event and for similar cleanups throughout April, Horner said. But if the shutdown goes into effect, at least 76 cleanup sites would be affected.
The cleanup is part of the foundation's ongoing effort to achieve a trash-free Potomac River by the year 2013, a goal outlined in its 2005 "Trash Treaty."
The treaty, signed by 161 elected officials from participating states, commits to increasing pollution awareness and implementing strategies for trash reduction in affected areas.
The foundation recommends that individuals take steps—such as properly disposing of trash, purchasing products made of recyclable material and using reusable shopping bags—to reduce pollution.
Volunteers collected 252 tons of trash in last year's cleanup, Horner said. While hardly a small amount, this was a decrease from the 291 tons collected in 2009, she said. The amount of trash found in the river is largely dependent on weather activity, such as heavy storms.
Parks throughout Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., all participate in the annual cleanup. Site leaders register electronically on the Ferguson Foundation's website. Those who registered before mid-March received complimentary cleanup equipment, such as gloves and trash bags.
Horner said the most common items found at the cleanups are food containers, paper products and plastic bags. Tires and cigarette butts are also common.
Davis, who has been involved with cleanups in Pope Branch Park since 2001, said she hopes the event can go on as scheduled.
"Right now, we're just waiting to see what's going to happen," she said.
For more information on the cleanup and possible cancellations, volunteers can visit fergusonfoundation.org.