HACKENSACK, NJ -- Earth Day 2019 was more than just a day for Hackensack Riverkeeper; it was an entire week – and then some. Led by Caitlin Doran, the clean water advocacy organization’s Outreach Coordinator, 278 volunteers met at eight sites in New Jersey and New York to remove trash, litter and other debris from along many of the region’s waterways. Cleanup venues included the northern tip of Lake DeForest in New City, NY, the Woodcliff Lake reservoir, Liberty State Park’s Caven Point, county parks in both Bergen and Hudson, and the Hackensack River running through the Metropolitan campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

“The planning started with our longstanding FDU cleanup, Hackensack’s “Slam Dunk The Junk” and the two reservoir venues,” explained Doran. “We figured that was enough to keep our volunteers busy but other groups and sponsors keep reaching out and we just couldn’t turn them away.” 

All told, the volunteers picked up and bagged an astonishing 7,791 pounds of trash, along with nineteen tires (ten of them massive truck tires), two couches, a water heater and a discarded bicycle. Doran is quite certain Riverkeeper’s Earth Week crew removed more than four tons of debris from the environment. The breakdown of location, sponsorship, number of volunteers and trash haul is as follows: 

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  • Earth Day, April 22 – Overpeck Creek and Overpeck Golf Course in Teaneck, NJ – Anonymous sponsor – 15 volunteers – 41 bags / 820 pounds of trash. 
  • Tuesday, April 23  – Overpeck Creek through Overpeck County Park in Teaneck, NJ – sponsored by Ralph Lauren – 37 volunteers – 46 bags + 1 tire / 940 lbs. 
  • Wednesday, April 24 – Hackensack River at Fairleigh Dickinson University – FDU Leading Teams Students – 21 FDU student volunteers – 7 bags + 1 bicycle / 160 lbs. 
  • Thursday, April 25 – Liberty State Park at Caven Point, Jersey City, NJ – sponsored by JP Morgan Chase – 23 volunteers – 23 bags of trash + 4 tires / 540 lbs. 
  • Friday, April 26 – Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus, NJ – sponsored by EarthShare New Jersey and PSEG – 23 volunteers – 32 bags + 10 truck tires & 2 car tires / 1,280 lbs. 
  • Saturday, April 27 – Bi-State Watershed Cleanup NY: Lake DeForest, New City, NY – sponsored by SUEZ Water NY & Park Ridge Green Team – 25 volunteers – 19 bags + 2 tires / 420 lbs. And… 
  • Bi-State Watershed Cleanup NJ: Woodcliff Lake, Woodcliff Lake, NJ – sponsored by SUEZ Water NJ & Park Ridge Green Team – 50 volunteers / 2,431 lbs. And… 
  • Slam Dunk the Junk: Hackensack River County Park, Hackensack, NJ – City of Hackensack partner – 94 volunteers – 60 bags + 2 couches & 1 water heater / 1,200 lbs. 

Hackensack Riverkeeper’s Cleanup Program was started in 2001 by then-volunteer Lisa Gainsborough Ryan, who later joined the organization as Operations Director. For years she worried about the amount of trash she encountered every place where she walked her dog, Thelma. There was so much broken glass and metal lying around in some parks that Ryan feared for her dog’s safety. Ultimately she decided to do something about it and made an appointment to talk to Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan. 

“Of course I knew all about what we now refer to as non point-source pollution in those days, but for Lisa it was personal,” recalled Sheehan. “I told her how I envisioned having an active volunteer cleanup corps but needed someone to coordinate and manage it. She said, ‘I’ll do it’.” 

River Cleanups have been Caitlin Doran’s job since 2014 when she came on board with Hackensack Riverkeeper. That year she wrote an introductory newsletter article about herself entitled, “New Girl Talks Trash”. Since then she and Riverkeeper’s corps of 1,000+ dedicated volunteers have done much more than talk. Under Doran’s leadership the organization regularly conducts upwards of twenty-five cleanups annually, including community cleanups as well as corporate-sponsored events that help fund Riverkeeper’s mission. In recent years, between 13-15 tons of trash are removed annually from the water’s edge and disposed of properly. 

“We couldn’t handle the sheer volume of work we do without the assistance of those I’ve dubbed our ‘Super Volunteers’ – people who not only do the work, but help plan, prepare and lead River Cleanups with me,” said Doran. “For them and for all our volunteers, my watch is always set a Pizza o’clock – the time when we put the tools down, wash up and enjoy a well-deserved lunch.” 

2019 is already shaping up to be a record-breaking year for Hackensack Riverkeeper cleanup events.  Including the Earth Week extravaganza, eleven events have already been logged with another seven community and at least another dozen corporate-sponsored River Cleanups on their calendar. 

Those interested in volunteering can sign up at www.hackensackriverkeeper.org or by calling 201-968-0808 and asking for Caitlin.