PORT VINCENT -- Carlton Haycook loves to be on the river.
What he hates is seeing all the trash that’s been dumped there in recent years.
“I live on the river and see the trash everyday,” Haycook said from behind the wheel of his pontoon on a hot Saturday afternoon. “Not only does it look bad, it’s dangerous. It really breaks your heart to see it, but some people just don’t care.”
With no one else stepping up and trash continuing to fill the waterways, Haycook and other water-lovers recently took matters into their own hands.
More than 100 volunteers grabbed plastic bags and gloves, hit the water, and gathered all the trash and debris they could find during an all-day river cleanup across Livingston Parish and beyond on Saturday, Aug. 10.
“Project River Cleanup,” spearheaded by Watson resident Rachel Deaton, took place in several waterways in and around Livingston Parish, including the Amite River, Bayou Manchac, the Diversion Canal, Blind River, Old River, and all connecting tributaries.
Nearly 50 boats split into seven sections under team leaders who reside in those particular areas. Collected trash was then dropped off at various checkpoints to be picked up by parish governments in Livingston, Ascension and St. James on Monday.
To their chagrin, the volunteers found plenty.
Together, boaters spent more than eight hours collecting trash from the local waterways. Some of the bigger items they found included wrecked boats, old propane tanks, refrigerators and other household appliances, broken tree limbs, furniture, old tires, and one cast iron tub.
“We’re going to need a bigger boat for that one,” Haycook joked as he pointed at the partly submerged tub.
“Normally, this is a party barge, but today it’s a garbage boat,” Haycook’s son Ryan added with a laugh.
Deaton, who was inspired to organize the cleanup after seeing Facebook photos of trash in the Amite River, teamed with the Waterway Commissions and sheriff’s offices in Livingston and Ascension parishes in the endeavor, as well as the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Homeland Security.
Several elected officials joined the volunteers in the cleanup, including Congressman Garret Graves, who helped workers unload a 20-foot-long tree limb. Boat clubs in Baton Rouge, St. James and Gonzales also joined the effort, as well as the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana.
Everyone who came had one thing in common.
“All the people here, we love the river,” said Haycook, who has been driving boats for around 40 years. “And they want to make it better.”
At Fred’s on the River, Keith Bastin and his 13-year-old son Case were the first boaters to arrive to the loading dock with trash, dragging behind them an old boat and furnace they found in nearby Grays Creek.
Bastin, who lives on the river near Port Vincent, said he and his son are on the water “every weekend,” whether it be fishing, water skiing, or just “riding the water.” So when they heard about the cleanup, joining was a “no-brainer.”
“I live on the river, like a lot of other people here, and we see all the trash the floods brings and everything else,” Bastin said. “It’s a beautiful river, and we want to do anything to make it look better. We just want people to clean up where they live.
“Unfortunately, some people just don’t care.”
Though trash dumping in the river has always been a problem, Bastin and several other volunteers said it has grown worse since the August 2016 flood — particularly in the Amite River, which has become a “dumping ground” in recent years.
Haycook, who converted half of his boat into “a portable dump” for the cleanup, said people have started burning trash near the river, adding that “what doesn’t burn, they’ll push into the water.”
“I don’t know how you can live on the river and do that,” said Haycook, who also pointed to the dangers boaters come across from trash floating on the river. “All that does is make it worse for those of us who care about the water.”
Though volunteers collected much debris, there were areas that couldn’t be reached at all with water levels being so low. Deaton saw some of those areas when she and others took a ride Saturday evening after the cleanup had ended, singling out a spot on Grays Creek near the 4-H Club Road bridge where trash is “blocking almost the entire waterway.”
“There’s still so much to get out there,” she said. “We’re not done at all yet. That’s why we want to continue doing this every year.”
Despite all the trash that remains, Deaton said she was encouraged by the first river cleanup, which she called “a success” after volunteers collected “three to four tons” of trash.
Though this was the first river cleanup in years, she doesn’t believe it’ll be the last — especially after other boaters got wind of what they were doing.
“We absolutely want to make this a regular thing,” Deaton said. “It really drew a lot of attention from people who didn’t know about the cleanup. I talked to quite a few people who were blown away that all the trash came out of the water. I had a lot of messages on Facebook saying they wanted to get involved next time.”