Beginning last Thursday, a massive cleanup effort called the “Tug River Tire Tug-of-War” aimed at ridding at least a portion of the river in the Williamson/South Williamson areas of thousands of old tires got underway.
Officials said the work was originally scheduled to be undertaken every other day and culminate at the end of Monday of this week.
However, after a herculean but successful effort during those three days on the part of local volunteers and workers from West Virginia DEP’s REAP program resulted in 1,624 old tires being extricated from the river and hauled away for recycling, officials decided to extend the project one more day on Wednesday.
Using john boats, canoes, skid steers, and an amphibious vehicle by REAP workers to assist those volunteers in the river performing the grunt work of physically extricating the tires one at a time from the muck—in some work areas as many as three and four deep — the result of that extra day was more than 2,000 tires in total being removed.
Spearheaded by the Tug Valley Area CVB as a means to continue the beautification of the river and further augment the adventure tourism initiative, the work specifically focused on an area of river from the U. S. 119 bridge to approximately the boat ramp in South Williamson.
Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wes Wilson said no one was more surprised at the severity of the problem than the DEP REAP workers. Wilson was joined by many others in the cleanup, including Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield and WFD Chief Joey Carey.
“One of them basically said that never in the history of the REAP program had they seen this many tires in any one section of a river,” Wilson said. “That’s essentially why the decision was made to extend it to an extra day. He said we could easily go another day and that if we could have enough people out in the river Wednesday they would be more than happy to come back.”
Although there were far more tires in just this small section of the river than anyone anticipated, Wilson said the consensus among DEP REAP officials as well as the volunteers was that likely the vast majority of them had been in the river for decades.
And because of the relatively small area where they had amassed in such great numbers, he said it appeared as if most of the tires had very likely been tossed throughout the years from the old “Singing Bridge” that once connected South Williamson to E. 2nd Ave in Williamson.
“I personally pulled 72 tires and I’d say 68 to 70 of them were dated back to the 1980s,” he said. “But I think the really amazing thing is that most of them had been in the river since the 60s and 70s, some even dating back to the 1950s.”
Wilson said the overall cleanup plan is to rid the area of river stretching from Williamson PK-8 to the low water dam at the water plant of tires, but added that an even more ambitious long-term tire removal plan also includes the area from the school all the way downstream to Goodman Hollow.
“I know that sounds like a near impossible feat, but the good news is we just got the absolute worst section this time around, so the remaining areas to be cleaned wouldn’t be nearly as time-consuming and difficult.”
Although the number of volunteers could have been greater, Hatfield said the amount of work that was accomplished by those who did participate was noteworthy, particularly to the DEP WVEA workers.
“They basically said we accomplished as much or more than other projects they had worked on in other parts of the state that had far many more people than we did,” he said. “Both the REAP workers and the volunteers worked extremely hard on this project, and we’re all really proud of what we managed to do in the relatively short amount of time we did it in.”