About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains. This story was originally posted on Chartiers Valley Patch.
Facing the Challenge
Melissa Rohm and her husband, David, both avid kayakers, got tired of picking litter out of the waterways they love.
So they founded the non-profit organization Paddle Without Pollution to make a difference.
Finding the Inspiration
“In the summer of 2011, we launched our kayaks on the South Side downtown just for kicks, and thought we’d paddle to Heinz field and come back,” Melissa Rohm said. “We didn’t get very far when we started seeing just piles and piles of trash. When you’re down on the water, you get a really close-up view.”
Rohm said she off-handedly suggested organizing regular waterway cleanups—her husband came up with a name, and a plan.
Rohm said it can be discouraging to see so much trash in the water. But the volunteers also come across wildlife, including—once—a small alligator, which Rohm said is rewarding because it reminds them of how important their work is.
Kayaks provide a low-impact way of working in the environment, and allow volunteers to reach places land and motor crews can’t access, she said.
Reaching the Goal
The organization now sponsors about 16 events a year, and uses volunteers in kayaks and canoes to clean up rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands across the state. Each cleanup attracts between 20 and 50 volunteers, and Rohm said volunteers do not need to have kayak or canoeing experience to help out.
In April, the group tackled Chartiers Creek in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette, pulling a whopping 2.6 tons of trash from the water.
“Every cleanup you find interesting things. You have to laugh at what you find,” Rohm said. “You think, ‘How does this stuff get in there?’ Someone found a 20 pack of Ramen Noodles, all kinds of toys, a ladder, and one water ski. And tires, like always."
And the group will continue its mission, which is more about the environment than the sport.
“We’re not hard-core kayakers, we’re hard-core passionate about the water,” Rohm said. “We’re around it all the time and we want to see it be healthy.”