March is River Celebration and Cleanup Month

March is River Celebration and Cleanup Month
Mayor Brown presents the Cultural Fusion Steering Committee, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman and Councilman Jim Love with the Year of the River Proclamation (Photo Credit: Tonya Austin)

March is River Celebration and Cleanup Month

Although it has been rolling along just fine for centuries without our help, now in the 21st century, the St. Johns River needs it – some would say, desperately.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of a nonprofit organization that has been trying to protect the river and to undo much of the industrial harm that’s been done in the century prior.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper got its start in early 2000 – in part thanks to a series of newspaper articles by Ron Littlepage – and hired its first Riverkeeper, Riverside resident Mike Hollingsworth, in February 2001. Following Hollingsworth, Neil Armingeon served as Riverkeeper from February 2003 until February 2012 when Springfield resident Lisa Rinaman took the position.

The organization has had many successes in the past decade and a half, but there is still much more to do.

“Over the years, St. Johns Riverkeeper has worked to address fecal coliform bacteria pollution in the tributaries, prevent construction-site runoff, reduce nutrient pollution from fertilizers and poorly treated sewage, and protect important wetlands and submerged aquatic grasses,” said Jimmy Orth, another Riverside resident who joined the Riverkeeper in 2004 as executive director. “The group has also provided an array of education and outreach programs to raise awareness about the river, engage the community efforts to restore the river’s health, get people out on the water to experience the St. Johns firsthand.”

The Year of the River      

It’s perhaps fitting – and exciting – on this 15th anniversary of the Riverkeeper to have the St. Johns River celebrated in 2015 during the Cultural Fusion’s Year of the River.

Last month Mayor Alvin Brown made the official proclamation at a press conference at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, and this month will mark the 20th annual River Celebration and Cleanup, held at dozens of sites throughout the area.

The Year of the River is an initiative that brings together more than 50 art and cultural organizations to raise awareness of the St. Johns River as the “cultural current” of the city, according to Jeff Smith, event organizer. He also noted that the river is an important driver for economic development, recreation, tourism and quality of life throughout Northeast Florida.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the Year of the River, having this celebration, bringing together artists,” said Rinaman. “The river has inspired artists for centuries, and this celebration is, in a way, almost giving back and thanking the St. Johns for how it’s shaped us as a community.”

Rinaman stated that the Year of the River will help get more people engaged with the river through different ways, whether it’s through art, music or the written word. “It’s an opportunity for folks to come together who value the river so we can all work as a community to protect it,” she said. “We’re proud to be here today not only to understand the inspiration that this river gives but also for us to have a community discussion about how our individual actions are important to protecting our river and all of her bounty.”

A river worth sustaining

While the Riverkeeper’s River Patrol is actively monitoring the health of the river, it is organizations such as The Rising Tides and other community groups and individuals who help make a difference.

The 20th annual St. Johns River Cleanup & Celebration presented by the City of Jacksonville Keep Jacksonville Beautiful Commission will be held on Saturday, Mar. 21, as Jacksonville’s kick-off event for the Florida Great American Cleanup.

The Riverkeeper suggests getting a team together from your office, church, Scouts, or civic group and join the effort to beautify your neighborhood and streets and prevent trash from entering storm drains and making it to the river. Clean one of the many riverfront parks and shoreline of the St. Johns. Get out on the water in your kayak, canoe, or boat and help remove that hard to reach trash and debris.

Students can receive community service hour certificates but volunteers age 18 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Cleanup supplies will be provided at each site and times vary, 8-11 a.m. or 9-12 p.m. Contact Shannon Blankenship, outreach director, at (904) 256-7613 or [email protected], with questions.


Mayor Brown and City Councilman Jim Love join Cultural Fusion members and supporters as 2015 is proclaimed Year of the River (Photo Credit: Tonya Austin)


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