SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Local residents and members of local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops cleaned out the east branch of the Rahway River on Sunday in Meadowland Park.

The clean up event marked the ninth annual River Day in South Orange, which was started by former South Orange Environmental Commissioner James McGowan to educate people about their local environment. Volunteers clean the river each year to stop garbage from traveling upstream in the river and from eventually getting into the Atlantic Ocean.

Garbage that ends up in a parking lot, in the street, or on the sidewalk could easily end up blowing into a storm drain and will then flow into the river, explained McGowan.

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"A cigarette butt put out the car window is going to go in the river," said McGowan. "People think it's just going to go in the dirt or it will disappear but no it's going to get washed into the storm drain."

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South Orange resident Norman Francis brought his daughter, Chloe, 6, to River Day to clean the river. Chloe was supposed to participate in a clean up with her local Girl Scout troop but only a handful of girls showed up because of the rain.

"It's important to clean the river so animals don't get caught in the trash," said Chloe.

Her dad noted it's also important to make sure the river is healthy for the animals, the life of the river, and the ecology.

When River Day first started almost a decade ago, volunteers pulled tires and large chunks of metal out from the river, according to Linda Beck, a current member of the South Orange Environmental Commission and of the Green Team. Beck organized this year's River Day with McGowan.

The amount of garbage found in the river has since decreased.

"Over the years, it's gotten a lot better," Beck said. "Mainly now, trash that's pulled out of the river is trash that has blown out of trash cans or because people have littered.

"The sheer volume of trash is still kind of unfortunate bu the kinds of trash we're pulling out makes us feel like we've really got a handle on it," Beck said.