Volunteers, preparing for race, clean up river

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BEACON FALLS — Volunteers pulled about 20 shopping carts from the Naugatuck River during a cleanup Saturday to prepare for the Naugatuck River Race.

The volunteers, organized by the Beacon Falls Merchants Association and Connecticut Outdoors in Oakville, worked the carts free, using their bare hands and crowbars, then dragged them ashore.

Meanwhile, others in canoes and kayaks collected junk, including discarded street signs, and deposited them in dump trucks.

The river has long served as a trash dumping ground and collects contaminants from roads and highways.

In the winter, neighboring businesses, such as grocery stores, inadvertently push shopping carts into the river when they’re plowing snow. The carts float down the river, often becoming entangled in debris and causing a hazard to fish and wildlife.

Most of the carts collected Saturday had too much rust to reuse. Some bore the names of Big Y, which has a store in Naugatuck, and Compare Foods in Waterbury’s Colonial Shopping Plaza.

The volunteers’ goal is to restore the river’s natural beauty, in observance of Earth Day and as a precursor to the Naugatuck River Race and Beacon Falls 5K run and walk on May 8.

For several years, the river cleanup team has worked to make the river safer for canoeists, kayakers and fishermen. As a result of their efforts, the quality of the water has improved markedly, said Dave Faber, owner of Connecticut Outdoors in Oakville.

“It’s our river, and we’re going to take it back,” he said.

On Saturday, the group launched eight canoes from Linden Park in Naugatuck and scoured the river, down to the Beacon Falls fire station. Ground cleanup crews picked up trash that had accumulated on the banks.

Volunteers clean the river throughout the year, but this is the first time they’ve specifically targeted shopping carts. Some of the carts were buried so deeply that volunteers said they would have to return with cranes to remove them.

The group plans to work with grocery store chains to install tracking devices in their carts. Such a system would save stores the cost of replacing shopping carts, and help protect the river, Faber said.