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PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY JESSICA GAULEY -- A team of volunteers in kayaks cleans up along the Pearl River in 2016. Shown in front are, from left, Christina Blanchard Lowrence, Desmond Bennett, Jennifer Blanchard, Shanel Bentz and Mike Kegal.  

Volunteers from two states will come together to clean up along almost 500 miles of the Pearl River.

The inaugural Pearl River Clean Sweep begins at 8 a.m. Sept. 23 at the Honey Island Fish House, 65583B Pump Slough Road, off Interstate 59 in Pearl River.

The cleanup will encompass the river from its headwaters in northern Mississippi to the Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana, said Jessica Gauley, of Pearl River.

“That’s more than 490 miles of river, with 32 cleanup locations registered so far,” she said.

The event is being organized by the Pearl Riverkeeper, one of 300 affiliates of the national Waterkeeper Alliance. Gauley is organizing the only St. Tammany portion of the event.

She said volunteers can bring a motor boat, kayak, canoe or pirogue to launch from the landing by the Honey Island Fish House. Pearl Riverkeeper will provide garbage bags, and people are encouraged to bring their own grabbers and gloves.

Gauley said she hopes people will come at 9 a.m. to form cleanup teams, and everyone will be on the water by 10 a.m. Team leaders will guide volunteers to locations and problem areas, she said.

“More adventurous volunteers who really want to get into the mess” will be paired with locals who are familiar with underwater obstacles in sloughs and tributaries that gather a lot of litter, she said. Organizers hope to cover 7 square miles during the cleanup.

There also will be teams launching from Walkiah Bluff near Picayune, Mississippi, and from Pooles Bluff in Washington Parish, she said.

An after-party will feature educational booths by local groups, live music and food. Volunteers will receive a wristband for plate dinners, which also will be for sale to the public.

“I encourage people who cannot help out on the water to come to the educational part” on land, she said. "It will be a kid-friendly event."

Gauley has organized a cleanup on the river for the past six years. The first year, her family and friends joined her in kayaks and motorboats to pick up trash. Last year, the cleanup drew 95 people and collected almost 900 pounds of trash.

“That doesn't include an entire boat and motor, two deep freezers and a toilet” that they pulled out of the river, she said.

She contacted Abby Braman, who started the Take2Miss litter project out of Jackson, Mississippi, and the Pearl River Clean Sweep was born out of their idea to “clean up the entire river in one day."

Now, the cleanup will include the 15 counties, two parishes and two states the river runs through.

Gauley said her goal is to bring awareness about the special ecosystem in the Pearl River. The Pearl River Basin is not only an important watershed for drinking water, recreation and flood control, but it is also home of the Gulf sturgeon, ringed map turtle, bald eagle and Louisiana black bear. It is a source of clean water for the marshes and estuaries on the Gulf Coast.

“I grew up out here and make a living on the river,” she said. “It has my heart, and I want to preserve it as best I can.”

Scout troops also can register for the event and earn a special Pearl River Clean Sweep badge. Educational groups can sign up to participate at the after-party by calling Gauley at (985) 290-0002.

To register for the clean up, visit www.pearlriverkeeper.com.