Student Volunteers Clean Up Creek

Calhoun Creek Cleanup
Calhoun Creek Cleanup
Carlene Eaton, a geology major and Geology Club President, tackles the entangled mess in the stream.

More than 30 SUNY Oneonta student volunteers teamed up with community members to help clean debris from a local creek following severe flash flooding in Otsego County's Butternut Valley over the summer. 

On July 17, 2021, the Otsego County towns of Morris, Pittsfield and Butternuts were hit by a flash flood that caused significant damage to local roads and properties. Floodwaters ran down the main streets in Morris and Gilbertsville, lifting about 1,000 plastic-wrapped hay bales and carrying them downstream in Calhoun Creek, next to Morris Central School.

The rushing water shredded the bales and entangled the plastic wrap around anything in its path, oftentimes burying the plastic deep within the stream sediments of boulders, gravel and mud. Extricating the plastic from the creek required immense effort from many volunteers. Even after two significant volunteer efforts, one on Aug. 21 by local community members and activists and another on Sept. 25 by members of several SUNY Oneonta student clubs, there remains a substantial amount of plastic yet to be recovered.

Calhoun Creek Cleanup
Partially wrapped hay bales deposited hundreds of yards from their original storage location litter the flood channel.
Calhoun Creek Cleanup
A section of Calhoun Creek shows the damage from the flood.
Calhoun Creek Cleanup
Plastic wrenched from the creek lies waiting for the hand-pulled wagon crew to move it to a location accessible by a “mule."

SUNY Oneonta geology major Carlene Eaton, president of the college’s Geology Club, rallied a group of student volunteers for the Sept. 25 cleanup after learning about the flood from Associate Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Les Hasbargen, a member of the Butternut Valley Alliance and a resident of the town of Morris. Eaton reached out to the executive boards of several SUNY Oneonta environmentally conscious clubs, including the Meteorology Club, the Biology Club and the Environmental Club. 

A total of 33 student volunteers participated in the cleanup, which was supported by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, the Department of Biology, the Student Association and School of Social Sciences Dean Tracy Allen. The Butternut Valley Alliance coordinated the cleanup, and Weaver’s Farm Market provided lunch for the volunteers. Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, significant portions of Calhoun Creek are now free of the plastic drapery, and the waters run cool and clear through riffles and pools to the Susquehanna River.

Calhoun Creek Cleanup
Tired, wet and soiled student volunteers after the cleanup
Calhoun Creek Cleanup
The SUNY Oneonta crew poses for a photo op in the park at the Morris Fire Department.
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