April 16, 2016. It was a peaceful morning on the Potomac River. The sun was shining, there was hardly a breeze to ripple the river’s surface, and spring’s warmth was finally beating out winter’s brutal cold. It was a perfect April morning. Too perfect. How could we guess at the horrors that awaited us?
10 am. The volunteers began to arrive for the 28th Annual Potomac River Watershed Clean-Up. They checked in, gathered their trash bags and gloves and grabbers, and headed out for the shoreline. They chatted and smiled with one another, and prepared to collect what they thought would be your run-of-the-mill litter–plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the river.
10:30 am. The first tennis ball is found. How funny and whimsical it seemed to find a faded Wilson wash up on the shoreline. Was someone playing fetch with their dog and lost their ball? What is this ball’s story–how did it come to land in Piscataway Park?
10:45 am. More tennis balls. Some look to be brand new, while others are missing their fuzzy yellow shells altogether. Concern began to spread among the trash collectors. Where are they all coming from? How can we possibly collect them all?
11:30 am. Chaos. One group came across a pile of 43 tennis balls, just stacked there in a pyramid, as if the tennis balls were gathering for some sort of ritual. Others began to run out of room in their bags, with no end to the balls in sight. Confusion ran rampant as all those witness to the invasion wondered “Why!?” and “How!?” Where have the tennis balls come from and why do they float so desperately to our shorelines?
We may never know why the tennis balls decided to invade this April. But we do know that it’s thanks to the valiant efforts of those volunteers that stood on the shoreline and bravely fought to stem the tide of the invasion that I live to pass this message on today. Never forget this day, and the lesson that the trash on the streets in your neighborhood could one day make it to our shores to invade again. Never forget.
Thank you to the volunteers who participated in this year’s Potomac River Watershed Clean-Up!
Your efforts led to the removal of 75 bags of trash and recyclables (including a total of 193 tennis balls!) from the shoreline in Piscataway Park. You also managed to remove almost 300 additional pounds of bulk trash. That’s an impressive haul!