Local
2:59 pm
Sat September 17, 2011

Paddle Without Pollution

On a lazy Saturday morning as traffic and trains cross over the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, something unusual is floating underneath. It's David Rohm, in a kayak full of garbage. The Allegheny Front's Ilana Yergin is there.

As the trains cross overhead, Rohm and Yergin launch a tandem kayak from the dock. They look pretty similar to the other paddlers on the water, except for empty garbage bags and heavy duty gloves. Right away, Rohm starts pointing out the targets.

"Right in there," he says. "We're the only ones that can get to that kind of stuff. We'll get a lot of that on the way back."

Rohm and his wife, Melissa, have been kayaking for about 10 years. They pick up trash in the river almost every time they're on the water and recently founded Paddle Without Pollution, a non-profit that hopes to expand the Rohm's work by organizing other paddlers.

"If you can get a couple dozen kayakers on the water once or twice a month you're not going to see this. We'd like to have kind of like roving patrols," Rohm says.

After about twenty minutes of paddling upstream, Rohm spins the kayak around. He aims for a floating plastic bag. Potato chip bags, bottle caps, and a baseball are just the beginning.

Something on land catches Rohm's eye. He grounds the kayak and sloshes to shore.

He lugs a large, heavy-duty black plastic bag toward the kayak and lists what's inside.

"Blankets, towels, you know, you're going to find a lot of unfortunately homeless people and they need these things to survive. This doesn't belong to anyone, it's bagged up. There's a fine line between what you're going to pick up and what's somebody's home, unfortunately. So you have to make a judgement call, but we're going to try to take this with us."

Rohm and his wife have found everything from the weird, like a bra, to the worrisome, a Coleman gas canister.

"We haven't found any dead bodies yet, so that's good," he adds.

Rohm's garbage-filled kayak draws odd looks from people on shore. Although he often causes people to do a double take, Rohm says they don't usually approach him to find out what he's doing.

"Sometimes we get some good jobs and 'attaboy' kind of things, but not too much."

Rohm says he thinks kayakers and canoeists are more likely to pick up trash than other boaters, and not just because it's convenient.

"I think kayakers and paddlers have a more intimate relationship with the water and their environment," he says. "Look how close you are to the water."

The first Paddle Without Pollution event is set for next Saturday, the 24th, in Pittsburgh. Rohm hopes to have 60 paddlers clean 26 miles of shoreline on all three rivers. Someday, he would like to help with habitat restoration and involve kids in the clean-up effort.