Paddling for Litter on Four Mile Run Stream

by Devin Reese

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists find ways to improve their local ecosystems not only on land, but also on the water. The Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation hosts regular stream clean-ups by kayak. All you need to bring is yourself, your enthusiasm for a cleaner stream, and a sense of humor about getting your feet wet. The program provides the boats, paddles, life jackets, gloves, and grabbers for fetching trash from the stream and tossing it into bins. 

Photo of volunteers on kayaks in four mile run creek
The June 5th flotilla of Four Mile Run cleanup volunteers included community members as well as three Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. Photo by Kurt Moser.

When you set out, it’s natural to wonder whether you’ll be able to find and retrieve trash. While it’s not a competition, something about the standardized bin strapped to each kayak ignites your ambition to fill it up fast. Some pickups are quick; your grabbers readily clasp a soda bottle perched on the grassy bank. Some of them take time; plastic bags seem to have a way of burrowing into the soil so that what you think is a quick fetch turns out to be a long tug of war. 

Litter encompasses everything from a multitude of water bottles and cans to larger items like gallon jugs and clothing. Elusive litter shows up in small scraps, such as gum wrappers or bottle labels. Occasionally, you’ll land a big, impressive piece of trash. Those mega-finds have their pros and cons. The Four Mile Run cleanup lore includes a story about the retrieval of a full-sized shopping cart, which had to be strapped on the front of a kayak.

Photo of a bin filled with trash from the creek
Litter bounty is strapped to the front of a kayak. Photo by Devin Reese.

When you’ve filled your bin or fetched an item worthy of showcasing, you paddle for the put-in, a gently sloping dirt ramp where the President of the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, Kurt Moser, waits. He has big trash bags in hand to relieve you of your treasures and get you turned around and back onto the stream as efficiently as possible. Lest it sound like all work and no play however, Kurt also offers granola bars and drinks! 

Each time you launch, you have exciting choices to make—upstream or downstream, right bank or left. Whether you paddle up towards Shirlington or down towards the Potomac, you find plenty of opportunities to load the bin. And you may also find opportunities to chat with people, share what you’re doing, and learn more about how people enjoy Four Mile Run as a natural area. 

Photo of a volunteer holding a channel catfish
Liam proudly displaying the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) he caught with his dad, Robert, by the Four Mile Run bridge.

While nestled in an urban area, Four Mile Run stream gets lots of day use by people fishing, jogging, watching birds, and even taking a dip.

After a couple of hours of paddling the stream, especially if it’s a hot day, you may drift into reflections about whether you’re really making a difference. Plucking the litter from the stream bottom or streamside vegetation can be tedious and slow-going. And, as ARMN volunteer Marilynn Lambinicio said, “You won’t necessarily see a change from one cleanup session to another, since litter continues to enter the stream from lots of upstream development.” 

Photo of a volunteer picking up litter while in a kayak
Arlington Regional Master Naturalist Marilynn Lambinicio dumps litter into a bin. Photo by Devin Reese.

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

Photo of bags of litter collected during the stream clean up

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

That’s approximately 20 pound each, a phenomenal haul that left the stream looking a lot more inviting for recreation and wildlife.

Would you like to participate in one of these kayak cleanups? If so, see Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, or email: info@fourmilerun.org for more information.

Wildlife
Wildlife includes all forms of life that are wild, including plants, animals, and microorganisms according to the Natural Resources Service.

The Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is one of the most common fishes caught on Four Mile Run Stream. While native from Canada to Mexico through the central U.S., Channel Catfish were introduced to the eastern U.S. more than a century ago. First observed in Virginia water bodies in 1969, Channel Catfish became established and are now prized for aquaculture and recreational fisheries. Their success stems from opportunistic feeding habits (choosing whatever is available), prolific reproduction, disease resistance, and tolerance for a range of environmental conditions from fresh to brackish waters. While accepted as an important food fish in this region, Channel Catfish may be causing declines of native animals such as crayfishes through competition and predation.

Learn more about the Channel Catfish on the United States Geological Service website.

1 thought on “Paddling for Litter on Four Mile Run Stream

  1. Thanks for sharing this! We have lots going on and great volunteer opportunities on land as well. Laura

    Sent from my iPhone

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