Volunteers turn out to clean up Rahway River

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CRANFORD, NJ — After a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cranford hosted a Rahway River Cleanup event on Saturday, April 16, at various sites along the river as it passes through the township.

According to information disseminated by the Cranford Jaycees, one of several organizations involved in the cleanup, collection locations included Kenilworth Boulevard, the end of Riverside Drive, the Riverside Drive footbridge, Hampton Park, Sperry Park, Droescher’s Mill, the High Street footbridge, the Crane Parkway/Hillside footbridge and Mohawk Park on Mohawk Drive. For many, this cleanup was a long time coming.

“The township has a River Maintenance Committee, and, last year, I took over that as chairman from the previous head, Mike Scotti,” said Jason Stevens in an interview with Cranford Life on Wednesday, April 20.

“Our town does a cleanup every year, although it hasn’t done one since 2019, before the pandemic,” he continued. “This is the first one since the pandemic.”

In undertaking such a project, the more people involved the better, said Stevens, so he went about trying to find as many as possible.

“I reached out to the people who had been previous volunteers, who had been at the sites along the Rahway River in Cranford, then I just had to track down organizations that had been involved before, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Cranford Jaycees and the Cranford Environmental Commission.” he said.

The township got involved as well. According to the township’s website, the Cranford Department of Public Works is responsible for general maintenance, such as street cleaning, snow removal, tree trimming, leaf pickup, and minor sidewalk and lighting repairs; the Cranford Building Department is responsible for property maintenance; and the Cranford Health Department oversees restaurant health inspections and trash collection. The Special Improvement District maintenance funds are used for beautification projects and maintenance that supplements municipal services.

Next on the agenda was choosing a date to have the cleanup.

“We decided to do it the Saturday before Earth Day,” which is observed annually on April 22, a Friday this year, said Stevens. “A number of other groups have cleanups, and we just didn’t want to have any conflicts with the other cleanups.”

He said about 100 people from across Cranford showed up. The township provided gloves; tools, such as gardening rakes and pitchforks, to reach things that are in the river; trash bags; signs to identify locations; and wheelbarrows. Volunteers were urged to work in pairs. The Cranford DPW picked up all the trash bags, as they were on duty.

Stevens said the cleanup ran from 9 a.m. to noon and included such volunteers as Cranford Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty and a couple of Cranford Township Committee members, as well as some members of the Union County Board of County Commissioners.

Being in charge was new for Stevens.

“This is my first year as head, but I’ve been part of the cleanup before, so I knew how it worked,” he said. “The Cranford Jaycees always host the site at the Riverside Drive footbridge, and I have been in charge of that site.”

In addition to serving as chairperson of the Cranford Environmental Commission and Cranford River Maintenance Committee, Stevens is also a member of the Cranford Jaycees and praised everyone who had taken time to volunteer for the event.

“People just volunteer their time,” he said. “A while back, they used to do two river cleanups a year, so we were looking to do a fall cleanup, but nothing is set in stone.”

After the three-year layoff, he said this cleanup was a good first step.

“Approximately two dozen contractor-sized bags were gathered up,” said Stevens.

“I actually have a photo of a log that’s laying across the river and catches all the debris,” he continued. “It usually catches plastic and soda bottles. A gentleman by the name of Chris Deczynski was able to take care of that.”

Stevens said, “At my site, it was predominantly plastic water bottles and plastic soda bottles. But a group did pull out a port-a-potty. It came from a hurricane or a flood,” he said. The most recent big storm to hit New Jersey was Ida, which hit New Jersey on Sept. 1, 2021. Floods have been a more frequent occurrence here.

Residents can get more local environmental information at mygreencranford.org.

Photos Courtesy of Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty, Cranford River Cleanup Committee, County Commissioner Bette Jane Kowalski, Andrew Feldman and Jason Stevens.