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Sierra magazine
Act | On Your Convictions

River of Life


Elmer Eddy, Swansboro, North Carolina; founder, Waterway Stewards

"Elmer Eddy is my real name. I call myself 'the White Oak River Trash Man.' Our group is called Waterway Stewards.

"Every time we paddle, we pick up trash and we think nothing of it. We can take you from Stella to Swansboro on the White Oak River in North Carolina and you won't see much trash. We do it on the White Oak River because that's where I live--I fell in love with it. We got awards for cleaning it up, including the Pelican Award from the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

"We try to go to a new place all the time, because our goal is to paddle every foot of shoreline and every creek and tributary within 100 miles. Some of the most unusual finds have been up little creeks. We found an Indian dressed in cowboy clothing, carved with a chainsaw out of wood. He had been standing in front of an antique shop. Hurricane Ophelia took him up the river, and that's where we found him.

"We find a lot of 'ghost' crab pots that get loose when motorboats run over the line and cut through. Fish and turtles and birds get caught in them. A crab pot was stacked up on land in a marina, and a hawk got in to get the fish or crabs out of the thing, and he couldn't get out. We were very careful about getting that hawk out of that crab pot. I've got crab pot plugs hanging on my back fence, which my wife doesn't like very much, but I think they give the backyard a salty flavor.

"I turned 90 on April 28. I'm the caretaker for my wife. My doctor tells me, 'You start paddling twice a week. You need to do it to get away from the stress.' I never feel better than right after a trip, getting a good workout for the day and getting outside."
—interview by Elizabeth Brownrigg

BRIDGE = TROUBLED WATER Most trash on waterways collects near bridges. The litter ranges from bait buckets and soda cans jettisoned by fishermen to illegally dumped mattresses and televisions.

ON THE WEB Learn more about Waterway Stewards at whiteoakstewards.org. Join the North Carolina Big Sweep to help clean the region's watersheds at ncbigsweep.org.

Photo by Douglas Toltzman

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