School groups participated in the 2022 May River Cleanup. Michael C. Riley Elementary will host its eighth School Participation Challenge to encourage other students to participate. PHOTOS COURTESY TOWN OF BLUFFTON

The 21st annual May River Cleanup will begin a third decade of the Bluffton community taking to its shores and waterways to clear the river of lost, tossed and storm-blown items that don’t belong in the water.

“The May River is the crown jewel of Bluffton,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said. “The river’s existence is a major component to Bluffton’s identity, essence and joy. This event is an opportunity when the Bluffton community can take care of her in return for all the beauty she brings us.”

The event is scheduled for 9 to 11:30 a.m. May 6, originating at the Oyster Factory Park.

Two cleanups are held annually, with the River Sweep held in September as an opportunity to pick up after summer vacation.

In the past 20 years, volunteers, community partners and town staff members have removed approximately 55,000 pounds of litter, debris, discarded appliances and abandoned boats from the May River and Bluffton Historic District. Some of the items retrieved have included boat steering wheels, hard hats, buoys, lawn chairs and many tires.

The town has paired up with numerous partners and one of them encourages using the river to clean it.

“We’ve always partnered with the town of Bluffton, and because there are so many kayakers in the area, we invite our local kayakers to come down and launch,” said Jean Fruh, executive director of The Outside Foundation. 

Boats, kayaks and paddleboards should arrive at 8:30 a.m. to allow time for setup.  

The town also partners with younger environmentalists, 

Michael C. Riley Elementary School will host the Annual School Participation Challenge. This will be the eighth time the school and the town have partnered for this event. Students and their families will have the opportunity to take part in the cleanup and waste reduction efforts provided by i2 Recycle. 

Coastal Kingdom will be partnering to assist the Town with the School Participation Challenge, and participants will be given a reward at the end of the school year.

Part of the purpose of the community event is education and outreach. Educational booths provided by Lowcountry Stormwater Partners/Town of Bluffton, Coastal Kingdom, The Outside Foundation, and i2 Recycle will be available to visit by the time the cleanup is finished. 

The Town’s press release notes “this is an important component because Beaufort County’s large expanses of salt marsh, tidal rivers and deep channels provide for a high level of biodiversity, allowing wildlife such as oysters, dolphins and cobia, to flourish. This also means that the ecosystem is sensitive to the environmental pollutants found in the stormwater that drains into rivers and streams, carrying pollutants with it.”

Partners also include Corner Perk, which will provide coffee and hot chocolate, and i2 Recycle, which has provided since 2015 the opportunity to process and recycle suitable materials collected by event volunteers. This has resulted in more than 3,200 pounds of waste being diverted from the local landfill.

When the event is over, partner Waste Management will provide disposal services for all materials that cannot be recycled.

Partnerships also include American Rivers, Lowcountry Stormwater Partners (LSP), Outside Hilton Head, Port Royal Sound Foundation, Keep Beaufort County Beautiful, Beaufort County Solid Waste & Recycling Division, Beaufort County Soil and Water Conservation District, Palmetto Pride, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium.

Volunteers are asked to meet at the Oyster Factory Park at the end of Wharf Street. All supplies, including gloves, vests, bags and water will be provided by the Town of Bluffton, American Rivers, Palmetto Pride, Keep Beaufort County Beautiful and Beaufort County Solid Waste & Recycling.

Personal supplies such as sunscreen, bug spray and water will be also provided.

The town of Bluffton will provide snacks and lunch.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.