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One man’s efforts help make impact on Susquehanna River

Every time Doug Fessler goes fishing on the Susquehanna River near Sunbury, he first takes time to clean up any litter he finds along the banks.

“I always leave a device to pick up litter, a garbage bag and gloves in my car, and each time my son and I go fishing, I make sure to clean up the banks first,” he said. “When you do that, and then catch a fish, there’s a deeper meaning to it. It’s almost like the river is rewarding you. There is a different sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with it versus just going down catching a fish and walking away.”

Fessler has pulled countless bags of trash from the river’s edge over the past year as more and more people turn to our natural resources for refuge from the pandemic and their hectic lifestyles.

“When I was a kid, there was a huge glass problem, but that’s not the case now. The Trbiggest culprit I see are plastic bottles – plastic, plastic, plastic,” he said. “Lately, with COVID-19, we are now seeing an increase in plastic gloves and masks showing up as litter along the river. It is interesting how our litter situation is affected by culture.”

Fessler has seen an increase, as well, in trash left behind by anglers – everything from discarded fishing line to discarded bait containers.

“One of the most disgusting things to pick up include containers left behind by those who catfish at night and use chicken livers as bait. They leave those containers on the shore and it bakes in the sun,” he said. “Kids play down by the river, people walk down there. No one wants to trip over a container of rotten meat that basically has become a biohazard.”

Fessler’s cleanup efforts are sparked by a lifetime of growing up in Sunbury along the river.

“I was raised here with the river in my backyard. When you grow up around that, exploring and checking out the cool critters and other things, you gain a certain level of appreciation,” he said. “It’s everyone’s river, but it is also my river, and I adopted over time a mentality that I was going to do what I could to help keep it clean.”

Fessler’s efforts earned him recent recognition as one of 2021’s People Who Made a Difference by an area newspaper.

Beyond the well-deserved accolades, Fessler’s story provides an important example of how anyone really can make a difference in our greater watershed. Beyond changes made at home, families can adopt stretches of the river or any of its tributaries – even cleaning up smaller streams, runs and creeks make a huge difference in litter that makes its way to the river.

While cleaning up your own adopted stretch of waterway, please be mindful of safety.

“Wear thick gloves and boots – you never know what you may bump into or pick up while snagging trash,” said Fessler. If you find bottles with liquids inside, “assume you don’t know what it is and assume that it is the worst thing possible. When possible, leave the liquid in the container and don’t mess with it or let it splash onto you.”

It is also important to be wary of the water conditions and proactively prepare for ticks. If you come across any weapons or drug paraphernalia, do not handle them but instead immediately report it to local authorities. For additional safety considerations, check out this video created by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association.

If you and your family take on this challenge, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association would love to hear how it goes while sharing your images and story to help inspire others to also get involved. Contact Zaktansky via email at midsusriver@gmail.com

The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association serves an 11,000-square-mile watershed of the Susquehanna River, including Sullivan, Lycoming, Clinton, Union and Northumberland counties. Read more at www.middlesusquehannariverkeeper.org.

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