Nestled in the urban sprawl of Pittsburgh’s East End, The Mount Ararat Community Activity Center provides innovative programs and experiential learning to the area’s families and youth. Earlier this summer, the Center debuted a new program for a select group of students, part of which involved teaching them to surf in whitewater rivers. While surfing might be the last thing many think of in this landlocked region of Pittsburgh, that is exactly what Mentorship Director, Dr. Charles Howell, has brought to the Center through partnership with a local organization called, First Waves.
At first glance, a group of teens yielding camera equipment and various electronics around water seems like a bad idea. Now, incorporate the instability of standup paddleboards, whitewater rapids, and the goal of scooping up every piece of trash we float by! “A recipe for catastrophe,” some will crow. At First Waves, our eyes bulge and mouths water at this morsel of contrast, challenge, and adventure.
The bustling streets of Pittsburgh’s South Side were a stark contrast from the previous First Waves Project on a rural section of the Stonycreek River. This time, instead of surfing river waves and running rapids on standup paddleboards (SUPs), First Waves participants would be utilizing their paddling skills to access difficult to reach sections of the Monongahela River in order to remove litter and pollutants.
David and Melissa Rohm of Paddle Without Pollution facilitated the conservation workshop and cleanup initiative. Paddle Without Pollution has found a way to not only rehabilitate our local waterways and shorelines, but to make the process fun. Teen participants and adult volunteers alike competed to see who could find the most interesting, shocking, and potentially disturbing items. Additionally, prizes were given out to the person that hauled the most garbage on their board or kayak. Utilizing their balance and paddling techniques learned at the whitewater workshop, the First Waves cleanup armada could be seen with piles of garbage bags, several tires, and a fully intact shopping cart atop their paddleboards.
In addition to removing trash, participants documented the experience under the guidance of Susan Howard and Louis Cappa of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Shore-breaking barge waves, messy conditions and shooting while wading in waist deep water were all part of the task, forcing First Waves to adapt their filmmaking plans. Despite the challenging conditions, the team was able to use dry-bags, waterproof POV cameras, and their paddling skills to ensure they were in position to get quality shots of the conservation efforts.
Through the tenacity and hard work of First Waves, the goal to remove at least 500 pounds of pollutants from the waterway was far exceeded. In total, the Paddle Without Pollution event amassed a heaping pile of trash in excess of 1 ton at the 18th Street Boat Launch at South Side Riverfront Park.
A special thanks to Evan Clark of the Tireless Project (A project of Allegheny Cleanways) for providing pontoon boat support for the First Waves crew. Additionally, we would like to thank Renee Rosensteel, David and Melissa Rohm, Jeff and Nick Devlin, and Melissa Rosenfeld for their incredible support in this project. Moreover, thanks to SurfSUP Adventures for their contribution of paddleboards and instruction. Lastly, thanks to Jan Glick, Cheryl Jones, Paul Sparico, Jon Potter, and the rest of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.
For more information about participating in a Paddle Without Pollution cleanup, visit: www.paddlewithoutpollution.com
This project supported in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at The Sprout Fund.