By Josh Troy
“The health of the river is the health of the city.” Quapaw Canoe Co. owner and founder John Ruskey said those words to describe the importance of the annual Sunflower River cleanup that he has helped organize since 1999. The cleanup begins at the Sunflower River and extends throughout downtown Clarksdale. Volunteers for the 2023 cleanup on Saturday afternoon picked up 30 bags worth of trash. “The purpose is taking care of our river that flows in downtown Clarksdale,” Ruskey said. “It’s a cleanup, so it’s open to all, and we do it purely as a voluntary thing. Not only does it create an opportunity for people to get to know the river a little bit better, but to make downtown Clarksdale a little cleaner and healthier by removing trash.”
Ruskey said the cleanup is always in February when he spends less time in the river. He also said there are fewer mosquitoes and snakes in February, which is also a month when cleanup participants are less likely to contract poison ivy. Ruskey said one of the areas the cleanup was focused on was the gazebo on Sunflower Avenue next to Quapaw Canoe Co. and near the Sunflower River. He said the other part of downtown the cleanup focused on was across the “area of riverbank along the river walk” across from Quapaw Canoe Co. and below the old “Cat Cave.” Ruskey said beer bottles were the most common trash items collected during the cleanup. Other trash included liquor and water bottles, oil cans, buckets, a VCR player, and brooms.
Ruskey said about the same amount of trash is collected every year. He added that the COVID pandemic did not stop the cleanup in the past couple of years because the outdoor trash was not contaminated. “Everyone wears gloves, and we don’t pick up anything that looks questionable,” he said. “But, as far as COVID goes or any virus goes, out in the sunlight for half an hour, it’s killed. Pieces of trash have been out there for weeks, months, or even years; they’re not going to have that kind of contamination.” Ruskey said there has been less littering in recent years thanks to the recycling manager for Coahoma County Marc Taylor. “Marc Taylor has made recycling possible in Clarksdale,” Ruskey said.
Ruskey specifically said there are two trash receptacles next to the gazebo on Sunflower Avenue and one in the center of the gazebo. Ruskey thanked all of the volunteers who picked up trash on Saturday. Volunteers included Erin Lee, board member of Lower Mississippi River Foundation that oversees the cleanup; partners in the event the Friends of the Sunflower River and the City of Clarksdale; Clarksdale Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey, who arranged for trash pickup with city Assistant Public Works Director Craig Amerson; Clarksdale Human Resources Director Tarra Slack and her son, Tyler; Mark “River” Peoples, Lee Perlow, Bill Hayden, Lanna Von Mac Hui, Levi and Shelby Brooks, Robin Colonas and Nancy Foley.
Photo Credit: John Ruskey