Operation Clean Sweep, a trash removal effort on the length of the Pearl River from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 23, has been deemed a huge success by organizers.

“It was an amazing community event, involving at least 1,006 volunteers in two states,” said Clean Sweep originator and lead organizer Abbe Braman of Jackson. “The volunteers were thrilled to be making a difference in our watershed. Our final total shows 36,582 pounds of garbage from the river.”

That doesn’t include an old jeep, which one team found hidden in the brush and mud on a bank in Hinds County near Jackson.

It does count thousands of plastic bottles, two homemade anchors, assorted car pots, miles of used monofilament fishing line and hundreds of bait boxes.

“You name it, I think it was brought here,” said John Sigman, general manager of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD), the state agency that oversees Barnett Reservoir on the Pearl near Jackson. “We used one of our parking lots at the spillway as the collection spot for the areas around the lake and we filled a 14-yard dumpster. 

“I’m hoping this is a start to a movement that will keep the river, the reservoir and the spillway clean and safe for all visitors. We’ve got kayakers and fishermen involved, and that’s a good thing.”

Operation Clean Sweep started at the Pearl’s headwaters in Neshoba County at Nanih Wahia near Philadelphia, continued through Barnett Reservoir and South Mississippi, and even through Southeast Louisiana. It ended at the Gulf of Mexico.

Its development began earlier this year when the PRVWSD and one of its strongest support groups, Keep the Reservoir Beautiful (KRB) had reached wits end with trash at the Spillway Recreation Area, a popular spot for fishing and sightseeing below the Barnett Reservoir dam.

The PRVWSD Board of Directors approved a plan that would allow closing the spillway to the public if the trash problem didn’t improve.

“That was a strong message, and it was needed,” said Jeannine May of KRB. “Nobody wanted to see it closed to the public but those of us that have been working to clean up weren’t getting anywhere and were tired of cleaning it one day only to find it back in sorry condition the next.”

Facing the loss of a popular and productive fishing hole, a handful of fishermen formed a Facebook site called Barnett Reservoir Spillway Fishing Group, which quickly grew to over 2,000 members.

“We wanted to do something to get fishermen together and have a place to trade stories and photos, and at the same time get the word out that this trash situation would not be tolerated,” said group leader Todd Macko of Brandon. “Then PRVWSD reached out to a group of us and started involving us in the process.”

When Braman, who has a Facebook and webpage called Pearl Riverkeeper, got involved, the cleanup effort intensified and rapidly grew to the whole river, and Operation Clean Sweep.

“We’ve already got a date for 2018 (Sept. 15) and it coincides with the International Coastal Cleanup,” she said. 

For results and photos from the different sections of the clean-up, visit Braman’s Riverkeeper site at http://www.pearlriverkeeper.com/results.html.