For the 11th consecutive year, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is calling upon Georgians to don their river-ready attire and help protect the state’s biggest water source through Sweep the Hooch.
The annual watershed-wide cleanup will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 27, and span across over 50 parks, tributaries and points along 100 miles of the Chattahoochee River.
The nonprofit encourages volunteers to sign-up quickly for the event since each site has a limited capacity of around 20-40 people. After two days of opening registration, Mallory Pendleton, headwaters outreach manager, said 400 people have joined the cause.
Those living in Northeast Georgia near Lake Lanier can sign up for one of the eight cleanup sites in the headwaters region: Don Carter State Park, Holly Park, Lake Lanier Olympic Park, Gainesville Marina, two areas in Helen, a point on the Soque River and Young Deer Creek Park in Forsyth. When people register at chattahoochee.org/sweep-the-hooch, they will be able to view a form with the complete site list.
During last year’s cleanup on Aug. 29, more than 1,000 volunteers removed around 73,646 pounds (37 tons) of trash, 19,288 pounds of which came from tires that were later recycled.
Over the past year, Pendleton said the nonprofit has noticed more and more personal protective equipment like gloves and masks turning up in the state’s waterways.
“Sweep the Hooch is important all the time, but this year I think it’s going to be even more important,” she said. “Sweep the Hooch is growing every single year, and with more people we are able to collect more trash. There’s always trash, it’s an ongoing problem.”
Volunteers can opt to clean by wading in the water, kayaking, walking along the shore or taking a boat into Lake Lanier. Pendleton said those with boats are highly encouraged to use them for the cleanup, especially for the sizable pieces of litter.
“The large blocks of Styrofoam and plastic that come from docks, a lot of kayakers and walkers can’t get to it,” she said. “Getting boaters more involved has been a really big plus on the sites around the lake.”
Volunteers are asked to wear “anything that can get dirty.” If they want to wade in a river or lake, waterproof clothes are recommended. Youth between the ages 10 to 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the event. Those who walk along the shore or wade in the water must be at least 10, and volunteers paddling solo must be at least 15 years old.
To help limit the spread of COVID-19, people are required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Along with Lake Lanier Association’s annual Shore Sweep, Pendleton said the headwaters region has only two large cleanups. And the trash accumulation is showing no signs of declining.
“People should volunteer (for Sweep the Hooch) because No. 1, it brings the community together for the sole purpose of cleaning our waterway,” Pendleton said. “We all depend on clean water. We’re washing our hands more during the pandemic and relying on the river and lake for recreation and stress relief. We’ve got to show our stewardship for these areas, and it takes everybody’s contribution to make it the best we can.”
People who can’t make it to Sweep the Hooch or want to contribute more toward protecting the Chattahoochee River can do so by making a donation at app.mobilecause.com/vf/SWEEP. Pendleton said contributions help the nonprofit secure gear and supplies needed to host cleanups. The organization aims to raise $10,000 before the event.
Those interested in sponsoring the event can reach out to the nonprofit’s headwaters office at 678-696-8866. For more information about Sweep the Hooch, visit chattahoochee.org/sweep-the-hooch or contact Tammy Bates at firstname.lastname@example.org.