Thousands Help the Hooch cleanup

About 10,000 people from the Bi-City area spent their weekend cleaning up as part of the 14th annual Help the Hooch.

Volunteers spent Friday and Saturday morning picking up trash along the Chattahoochee River, and local lakes, parks and schools. In addition to the cleanup, volunteers collected hazardous materials and electronic items from a steady flow of vehicles at 25 22nd Ave. off Victory Drive. As a reward for their hard work, all volunteers were invited to the Watershed Festival at Golden Park Saturday afternoon.

"It's our thank you to the volunteers," said Watershed Festival chairman Stacy Mote said. "They come in grubby and we have free items, booths set up and inflatables."

Mote said they typically collect between 100,000 and 150,000 pounds of trash each year. They won't know this weekend's totals until November, she said.

The event is popular with schools, companies and scout troops looking for community service opportunities.

Girl Scout troop leader Chinetta Richardson said she has brought her troops, 111 and 184, out to Help the Hooch and the Watershed Festival for a couple of years. This year they cleaned up Spirit Field ministry on Mulberry Drive.

"They enjoyed it," she said. "I think it teaches the children that its good to do community service, and it teaches them it they see trash to pick it up and to help keep Columbus clean."

Willie Ann Barnes, who came with her son Cory Jackson and the environmental club from Dimon Elementary, said the event was educational as well. Volunteers helped clean up the elementary school last week and also went to a class where they learned how litter and pollutants can make their way through the sewer system and back into the river.

"I've been here all my life and I never thought about it that way," she said. "It was really educational."

At a city building off Victory Drive, Les Moore of the waste collection division said 547 vehicles unloaded paint, insecticides and computer equipment for disposal. That total exceeded the 460 vehicles that dumped items last year.

"I'm definitely well pleased but a little surprised," Moore said. It was the first year the event was held at the new site instead of the parking lot at the Columbus Civic Center.

Yvonne Cepero helped her aunt who lives in Columbus clean out old paint. Arlene Anaraki of Columbus came through the center with a pickup full of paint and computer equipment. "We inherited a bunch of paint," Anaraki said.

It's important to get chemicals out of homes and disposed of properly, said Ed Jones, a technical services specialist for CleanHarbors Environmental Services Inc., the Atlanta company hired by the city. "A lot of it is toxic," Jones said. "Eventually, it works its way into the water supply."

Over the years, Columbus has been a strong supporter of programs to protect the environment, Jones said. "Anytime you can dispose of anything, that's good. This community is civic minded."