All-terrain amphibious vehicle bolsters Conococheague cleanup
By Carley Bonk
Chambersburg Public Opinion
Becoming a household name in Franklin County has been a goal for the Creek Cleanup Project since its establishment in 2017.
That goal is becoming a reality for Eric Grace, founder of the Creek Cleanup Project, partly due to a heavy presence on social media.
But that's not the only goal the group has achieved in recent weeks.
Thanks to the generosity of two local businesses — BCM Payroll Services and Shank's Lawn Equipment — the Creek Cleanup Project is now the proud owner of an Argo.
Shank's lowered the price of the vehicle and trailer to accommodate the donation of $20,000 from BCM Payroll Services.
The additional $3,500 was raised by a network of individual donors in order for the group to acquire the Argo trailer.
"It eliminates that labor as far as trying to get stuff out of the creek bed, especially the larger stuff," Grace said. "It just pulls stuff out that would normally take us an hour, hour and a half, in minutes."
An Argo is an eight-wheeled all-terrain amphibious vehicle that can haul nearly 1,000 pounds through water and on land. The vehicle is safe to drive through the creek, as tire pressure is minimal and the entire model is sealed to avoid chemical fluid leaks into waterways.
The new addition is a welcome tool for volunteers wading through the Conococheague Creek. Grace and his team have already cleared nearly 30,000 pounds of trash out of over 30 miles of the waterway.
The Argo came just in time for the Creek Cleanup Project to continue its efforts.
"We just stopped (two weeks ago,)" Grace said. "It was pretty much the end of our year because we couldn't drag boats anymore. The water was too shallow."
With the Argo, not only is dragging boats out of the equation but so is hauling trash to the banks.
"At the end of the trip, one of the hardest things to do after you've been walking through the creek for six or eight hours and pulling trash is loading it onto the banks and into the back of the trucks," Grace said. "With this thing, I can drive it right out onto the rollback (truck), strap it down and deal with the trash the next day."
There is also an added assurance of safety.
"The other major factor with this thing is in an emergency situation now we have a way to get someone out of the creek in a hurry, versus before, we might have had to carry them a mile in any direction between bridges or float them a mile in either direction between bridges," Grace said. "In town, there's plenty of access points to get out but once you get outside of town it's mostly woods and farmland."
The donation was a complete shock for Grace.
"I've never expected somebody to come out with an Argo and be like, I want to help you do this and get you moving better and faster," Grace said. "I didn't see that coming."
Marissa Schmehl, founder of BCM Payroll Services, said this is the largest single donation the company has made to an organization.
"I've just been seeing their posts and I've been so inspired that people are doing that back-breaking work for free," Schmehl said. "I think most people can get behind a clean creek. Eric's been doing a great job and people really appreciate what he's doing based on what I've seen. If BCM could play a part in making it easier and better so they can get more done when they do go out, that's something we wanted to help with."
Now that the Creek Cleanup Project has the Argo, the crew will be able to clear larger sections of the Conococheague faster than ever before.
Additionally, the Borough of Chambersburg has agreed to donate the use of a dumpster for creek trash disposal. Aaron's Landscaping, Grace's employer, is allowing it to be placed on their property.
"From day one, I always wanted to work with the boroughs and the townships and the counties to be a resource they could go to and say 'hey this is down here, can you guys take care of it," Grace said.
Typically, Grace would've to take time off of work to haul the trash to the dump and pay for it to be disposed of.
This kind of work is continuous as more trash is uncovered and Grace has additional goals in mind for the certified non-profit.
l *** Looking ahead ***
One idea he hopes to pursue is the installation of a trash trap within the Chambersburg section of the creek — where a lot of the trash is introduced and washed downstream.
"If we could stop that stuff from getting out of the borough and have a trap at the end, we can just unload the traps, or nets over the storm drains, which are called watergoats," Grace said. "We can catch that trash and get it in one spot before it gets spread out down the creek and in all the log jams and all the floodplains."
Such investments can be pricey though, Grace explained.
The group continues to fundraise for its future goals.
Another idea Grace would like to further develop with donations and grants is the creation of an app that could connect kayakers and canoers with groups like the Creek Cleanup Project to mark sections that need attention.
"It would create a network between the paddlers, and the watershed groups to say, 'OK, I've seen a huge tank here or a tire here,' snap a picture of it, mark that location on the map and then we know where to get it," Grace said.
"It would pull the community in because instead of going by stuff and feeling hopeless about it, they can say, 'Hey, these guys will come to get this, when they pass through here next time if I take a picture and mark it."
Such an app would provide a sense of accomplishment and community, Grace said.
"I believe it would pull the whole community of people that love the Conococheague together a little closer, and we'd have more community involvement," he added. "As far as the support people, that's what I'm pushing for — to be organized within the community."
Using the Argo, Grace said the Creek Cleanup Project's reach to expand to the west branch of the Conococheague is closer than ever.
Every little bit the community can do helps, Grace said, and he's noticed the mentality of Franklin County residents change.
"Even if they don't want to help us, they're conscious of what we're doing so they're going to be more cautious when they're down by the creek," Grace said. "I think that mentality has changed a lot, especially when I think of before, we picked up a lot of fishing stuff: bait containers bags, things of that nature in the creek. This year, I barely found any."
"It really is gonna take the community," Grace added. "And we're getting there."