This story was updated at 1:25 p.m. on Sept. 20 to correct how long volunteers spent removing tires and that fines from NRG Energy paid for the entire event, not just part of it. It was updated at 4 p.m. on Sept. 20 to correct that NRG Energy, not Canoe Cruisers Association, coordinated the trash bins.
During a cleanup of the Potomac River this month, local volunteers pulled out about 229 tires, an organizer said. Their haul included airplane and tractor tires.
Bannockburn resident Beth Rogers and Cabin John resident Kevin Kearney led the “Great Potomac River Tire Rodeo,” in which about 50 volunteers cleaned up about a mile of the waterway on Sept. 9. They worked on a stretch between Lock 10 and Cabin John Creek.
Volunteers sported neon-yellow shirts that featured a cowboy riding a tire with a lasso around it. They trudged through waist-high water searching for tires that were locked in by the mud.
Volunteers used shovels to free large tires from the bed of the river. They used their hands to dig out mud that was collecting within each tire, weighing it down.
The process of pulling up tires, taking them to the shore and dumping them into a trash bin lasted from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Rogers said.
Volunteers stayed later than they planned because they enjoyed the hunt to find tires, she said.
Rogers said in an interview that her husband, Mike Zangwill, called removing tires as exciting as finding gold.
Rogers was inspired to plan this event after meeting Kearney as he was collecting trash on the C&O Canal towpath about a year ago. Kearney regularly snorkels and swims in the Potomac River. He mentioned to Rogers that he often stumbles upon tires along the river.
Kearney, Rogers and Zangwill set out to clean up the area.
They received funding that came from fines paid by NRG Energy.
After dumping nitrogen into the Potomac and Patuxent rivers, NRG Energy was fined $1 million following a lawsuit in 2016 by the Maryland Department of the Environment, according to a press release by the state attorney general’s office. These fines help pay for restoration projects, including the Great Potomac River Tire Rodeo.
This funding paid for the event, including shirts, lunch and a permit from the National Park Service to work in the river. The crew donated leftover money to the Canoe Cruisers Association, which helped with the cleanup.
About half of the cleanup volunteers were from the Canoe Cruisers Association, whose members provided boats to bring tires to shore and worked with other volunteers to pull up tires.
NRG Energy coordinated the placement and removal of the trash bins, Rogers said.
Rogers and Kearney said the CCA’s contributions helped the event go smoothly.
Rogers hopes to plan another event if organizers can get funding.