By Sean Barron
In a short time, Robin Mattheus went from being unaware of a trail along the Mahoning River to removing plastic silverware and the occasional alcohol bottle from it.
“This is where people come for walks; it’s so accessible,” Mattheus said, referring to a narrow pathway that parallels the river and that he helped beautify.
Mattheus is a Youngstown State University assistant geology professor who moved to the area about two years ago from Clinton, N.Y. He also was among about 25 people who rolled up their sleeves to take part in Saturday’s cleanup on and next to the path along the river near the B&O Station Banquet Hall, 530 Mahoning Ave.
Spearheading the three-hour effort to collect trash were the YSU Geological Society, Friends of the Mahoning River and Green Youngstown, noted Amanda Keith, conservation coordinator with the Sierra Club’s Clean Water campaign in Northeast Ohio.
“We want people to come out to the river,” Keith said. “There’s a lot of opportunity. We’re trying to change people’s minds.”
Participants braved 40-degree temperatures and a stiff wind as they donned gloves, brought bags for trash and recyclable items and devices to grab garbage, then spread out along the trail. It wasn’t long before their bags began bulging from refuse that included plastic spoons and forks and the usual soda cans, cigarette butts and beer bottles — as well as a muddy baseball found nearby.
The mix also included some unconventional finds, such as a large box of toaster pastries Chris Calvin extracted from a small hill off the trail leading to the river.
“I grew up in Greenford, and I have an appreciation for nature,” said Calvin, a YSU junior and geology major who recalled having spent a lot of time fishing in a creek near his home.
Calvin said he’s taken several field trips to the Mahoning River largely to take samples, as well as make flow-pattern and other measurements for class assignments. He also appreciated being part of Saturday’s cleanup, he said.
In addition, the group concentrated its efforts in several secluded sections by the trail, including a wooded area next to an abandoned bridge. Participants also pulled from the grass and leaves a discarded pile of rotted roof shingles, a broken piece of an air-conditioning unit, a mud-caked yellow-green scarf and rusted car parts. One of the more macabre discoveries was a bag containing what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a dead animal.
During one of the cleanup’s lighter moments, several people reveled in a bit of irony, thanks to Ronald Forte of Struthers, who held an old beer bottle he had found that read on the bottom, “Please do not litter.”
The river is nothing new to Forte, a geology major who grew up nearby and spent many years fishing in it, he recalled.
Accompanying the YSU senior was his girlfriend, Jenna Medina of Poland, who had a bag filled with an assortment of cans, bottles and other pieces of litter.
Officials hope that Saturday’s cleanup project, which also entailed removing overgrowth, will lead to other such efforts, said Salam Farhan, a Sierra Club Student Fellow and an event organizer.
“I’m passionate about the Earth, and I see the beauty of Youngstown,” said Farhan, of Howland, a YSU sophomore who added that a cleaner corridor likely will draw more people.
Keith also wished to thank Aveda Salons for hosting fundraiser events each April that include concerts and fashion shows, because a portion of the money goes toward efforts such as Saturday’s cleanup, she noted.
Last year, roughly $200,000 raised by Aveda helped the statewide Clean Water campaign, she said.