CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It takes an army of volunteers and a navy of canoes, johnboats and barges to help West Virginia's REAP (Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan) program wage war on tires discarded in state streams.
"With only 11 people in the entire REAP program, we need volunteers to work with us on river cleanups," said Greg Rote, REAP's program manager.
Last week, Rote worked the controls of REAP's winch-equipped Kubota track hoe, used to pull 10 or more scrap tires at a time up a steep embankment from the edge of the Little Coal River, where 13 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers had boated them to shore.
Once Rote winched the tires other REAP workers lassoed together with a cable onto a wide spot along Little Coal River Road, contractor Tim Graham loaded them into a truck, using the bucket of a small backhoe.
"We're making some progress -- there's less tires and trash to haul off than in the past, and there's no junk cars, appliances or metal stuff at all, thanks to the scrappers," Rote said. "But I think we've got job security for awhile."
In Southern West Virginia, REAP maintains a fleet of five canoes, two flat-bottomed johnboats and a 22-foot barge fashioned from a section of an Army surplus pontoon bridge to remove tires and other junk from streams. A similar-sized REAP armada is available for clean-up duty in the state's northern waters.
Streams on REAP's cleanup list this year include the Big Coal, Little Coal and main stem of the Coal River in Boone, Lincoln and Kanawha counties, along with sections of the Kanawha River, Elkhorn Creek in McDowell County, Morris Creek near Montgomery, the Guyandotte River near Welch and the Tygart River in northern part of the state.
"The amount of discarded tires we have in West Virginia is amazing," said REAP Director Danny Haught, who was also on hand for Wednesday's cleanup on the Little Coal. "We're seeing a small decrease in numbers, thanks in part to drop-off programs like Kanawha County's, but many people continue to illegally dump their tires."
Through river cleanups, open dump removals and drop-off programs, REAP disposes of about 400,000 tires annually. Haught said the tires are disposed of in three tire monofills -- landfills devoted exclusively to tires -- operated within the state.
"Hopefully, a beneficial use will be found for them some day," Haught said. "Until then, the tires aren't going anywhere. They seem to last forever."
The Coal River system, due mainly to its close proximity to the densely populated Kanawha Valley, is one of the state's top dumping grounds for worn tires, according to Haught.
In June, REAP and members of the Coal River Group and its Big Coal Branch removed 586 tires along a 1.5-mile stretch of the Big Coal River between Ashford and Dartmont in Boone County. Last year, along the similar-sized horseshoe bend of the Little Coal near Water Ways Water Park, volunteers and a REAP crew removed 1,100 tires.
The cleanup effort now underway with the AmeriCorps NCCC team and REAP will involve five days on the Coal River system. In addition to tire removal on the Little Coal along the Kanawha-Lincoln line, work is scheduled for the Alum Creek and Lower Falls areas on the main Coal.
"Here on the Coal River, we've been doing this with REAP for eight years," said Bill Currey, co-founder of the Coal River Group, the organization sponsoring the AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers during their river-borne clean up project. "When you get this kind of help, you can really make a difference."
In addition to removing tires from the Coal River system, the AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers have built a 100-foot boardwalk portage trail around Upper Falls near the Coal River Group's headquarters at Tornado, and have cleared trails at Meadowood Park and the CRG's Barnette Preserve.
"Until now, most of our outdoor work has involved painting and graffiti removal," said Adam Sievering, leader of the AmeriCorps team, as team members offloaded tires from canoes along a scenic stretch of the Little Coal. "You don't get a better job site than this."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.