When Alice Friedenson and a handful of volunteers from the Shawsheen River Watershed Association waded into the murky water last month to retrieve a couple of tires from a stretch of river that runs through the Sacred Heart Reservation, they were astonished at what else they found.

"All we could see (from shore) was one or two tires," said Friedenson, a member of SRWA. "The place looked immaculate."

But upon closer inspection, once they entered the water in waders, they realized the river bottom was clogged with debris.

"We were shocked at what we found," she said. 

Their haul July 17 included "11 tires, a chair, a bucket, a metal sheet, a pillow, a toy boat and much more," she said.

There is still more there, she added, which is what led to another cleanup in the same place, scheduled for this Saturday, Aug. 29, from 9:30 a.m. to noon. 

Anyone wanting to take part in the event should show up ready to immerse themselves in the river, wearing appropriate attire to haul out debris. The Department of Public Works is planning on hauling away the trash, as it did following the first cleanup, Friedenson said.

"Chris Cronin, director of the Department of Public Works, is amazing," she said, noting that he and Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, along with Conservation Commission member Alix Driscoll, have all been very supportive of the organization's efforts.

Friedenson added that the cleanups are the result of coordination among a number of different organizations from a variety of communities.

The first event was prompted by Peggy Rambach, a resident of Arundel Street who reported that she walks along the river quite often.

“I was hoping you might remove a tire that is clearly exposed where the river flows between the upper and lower (the oval) soccer fields," Rambach said in an email to the SRWA. "I walk there all the time and I’m so tired of looking at that tire, along with some other junk you will likely find there – square pillow-like things that are caught up in fallen logs and branches."

Friedenson said she got a small team of SRWA volunteers together, including Laurie Hartwick of Tewksbury, Mike Dempsey of Andover and Justin Damon of Billerica. They represent groups such as the Shawsheen River Greenway, based in Andover, and Boat Beautiful of Billerica.

Friedenson added that most river enthusiasts are kayakers, but that the stretch that needed to be cleaned is not one that can be paddled.

"It's not an area where you can kayak, so none of us were familiar with it," she said. "But it will end up downstream where we do kayak, so we were happy to do this."

She said that during the cleanup last month, a resident watched as the group cleaned and became so enthusiastic he said he would put together a large group of teenagers to help during the coming cleanup Saturday.

"There is unbelievable involvement from so many people coming from so many places," she said. 


What: Shawsheen River cleanup at Sacred Heart Reservation;

When: 9:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Aug. 29;

Where: A stretch of Shawsheen River located in the Sacred Heart Reservation;

Where to park: On Balmoral or surrounding streets, or in the soccer field parking lot, which is a three-minute walk to the river;

Important information: Be prepared to wade — wear water shoes/boots;

Questions: Contact Laurie at hartwicklaurie@yahoo.com;

Perk: Pizza will be served at the end of the event.

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