Kittatinny Canoes, Inc. is a family-owned livery offering river trips, paintball, camping and zip lining along the Delaware River. The company, currently celebrating 76 years of business, hosts an annual River Cleanup to "give back" to its primary resource.
The Kittatinny River Cleanup is a two-day, 70-mile mission. Volunteers work on foot, by canoe, and under water to remove trash from the river, keeping it clean and free-flowing for all to enjoy.
We spoke to former Kittatinny President, and octogenarian paddler, Ruth Jones to learn more about the project she started nearly 30 years ago. Her story is below.
“I was an only child, so the river was my playmate, my playground...”
“I was born and raised on the river, as were my kids, and we were always on the river from childhood. On our days off we just noticed the river was getting more and more trashed with garbage and it was really bad. Especially beer cans and tires. Budweiser was king of the river by far. In the late 80s, I said to my son one day, ‘We’ve got to do something about this. We need to clean up this river, but if we’re going to do it we’ve got to do it well; not just a little bit.’ But we had no role models because no one ever cleaned this river."
"In 1990 we started our first cleanup. We did it in late July for several reasons: In spring, the river is too cold and too high. In summer, the river is clear; you can see the bottom. My son was a diver and so was my daughter, so we were going to clean the water with divers as well as walk along the shore and do it thoroughly. In summer we have a staff; in August the staff starts leaving for college, so we wanted to do it after the two holidays, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. That first year, we did [the cleanup] with staff.”
The first Kittatinny River Cleanup started at Ten Mile River Access (A New York State public access eight miles north of Barryville) and extended 70 miles to the Delaware Water Gap, an access now known as Kittatinny Point.
“It took three days to do it and we got a lot of trash but the one lesson we learned, we put too many staff members on the river and not enough to stay back and take care of customers, so that had to be corrected. So the next year we decided we’d ask for volunteers, which we did, to take care of the situation. We also learned that you can’t do a long stretch. People get tired and they don’t do a good job toward the end. It was a learning experience. So we had to do shorter stretches.”
“So the third year, we’re really getting our act together, and some of the same volunteers are still coming, it’s like a big reunion now. They plan their days off work around it and they all get along. It’s really neat. So it took three years to learn how to clean the river. Year four we really got our act together. So on the fourth year is when we got our most amount of tires, we learned how to do it better and had the right volunteers to do it. On the fourth year, we removed 1,004 tires. Isn’t that amazing?"
"Most of the tire dumps were in the same places each year; there were certain areas where people dumped tires each year so they didn’t have to pay to get rid of them. One of those places was Minisink Island, which is special because that’s where the Indians lived in the summer. Shapanak Island was another hot spot and the Hawks Nest in New York State. People actually used that for dumping grounds at night and dumped trash over the wall, even vehicles! We’ve even removed a pickup truck from that area.”
“So our cleanup started to receive recognition in PA, Take Pride in PA. We won three years in a row for our River Cleanup— first place— which entered us nationally into Take Pride in America, and in 1990 we won first place for River Cleanup in that category, for volunteer workers, and we got invited to the White House to meet President Bush with all the first place winners. We received our award in Constitution Hall and it was given to us by Linda Evans of 'Dynasty' fame. The second year, we won again first place and the second year she gave [the award] to us again in Constitution Hall. We also won the third year in Take Pride in PA. I have received so much recognition for this cleanup. I’ve got all kinds of certificates and awards and meetings. It was recognized and I appreciate it. I got a letter from the White House one day in a brown envelope and I opened it up and it was a letter from President Clinton commending us on our River Cleanup.”
“So we continued the River Cleanup every year and every year the river got cleaner and cleaner and people are taking better care of it now. You don’t find as many beer cans. It’s so clean now and if it is clean, people will have a tendency not to throw something in it. If it is dirty, people say ‘oh well what’s one more can.’ That’s not happening anymore. You can barely find cans on the bottom anymore. So the river has become so clean, we cut the cleanup back to two days instead of three and still do a good job.”
“No other companies clean the river. It costs money. You have to feed the people, move the people, pick up the trash, sort the trash. The tires go separately; the Park Service takes the tires. Steel and scrap metal go to a scrap yard. We have a roll-off dumpster and everything that can’t be recycled goes in that. After a flood, there’s so much household stuff. Total tonnage is I think 454 tons [of materials extracted over the years]. We’re not far from 9,000 tires. And I kind of have a hunch we might make that number this year.”
Items extracted from the Delaware over the years include cars, computers and kitchen sinks. Check out this fact sheet for the full report.
“Here’s another thing that this river cleanup created and this is a biggie: We belong to America Outdoors… AO really took notice of all the awards we were getting and all the recognition, so guess what that started? AO started a national river cleanup week that’s going on across the whole United States now. Outfitters are cleaning up their rivers and we were instrumental in that getting started. Because we cleaned up the Delaware River, a lot of the rivers are getting clean. They do it in May. We don’t do it in May for the reasons I told you. We’re still going to do ours in July. It’s immaterial when you do it, as long as you do it.”
“This is our 27th year, but you have to do it every year. You have to maintain it. You can’t skip a year. I’ll always do it to the day I die and hopefully beyond. It’s my legacy, a clean river. In fact, some of the volunteers that come every year say they feel guilty, ‘you feed us and we camp in your campsites and we hardly find any garbage,’ but that’s good; that’s the way it’s supposed to be."
“I do have a saying, 'The Delaware River is a resource that we use for our livelihood. You can’t keep using a resource without giving something back to it, and this is our way of giving back.'"
“And there’s another one: ’A waterway, when properly used, is the only trail through nature that man can travel without leaving a trace of his passing.’ You put your hand in the river and you pull it back out and you can’t tell it was there, right? But when you’re walking, you’re moving the soil, the landscape, so you leave a trace, so to speak.”
At 83 years old, Ruth Jones is the former owner and president of Kittatinny Canoes, Inc. She paddles on "her river" as often as possible and has not missed a River Cleanup in 27 years. For more on Ruth Jones and her life on the Delaware, check out this article by Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Superintendent John Donahue.
The National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year. In recognition, officials have pledged 100 staff volunteers for the upcoming River Cleanup.
The 27th Annual Kittatinny River Cleanup is set for Monday and Tuesday, July 18 and 19, 2016. For volunteer opportunities and additional information, call 800-356-2852 or visit kittatinny.com.