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Canoe caper draws volunteers to Symmes Creek

CHESAPEAKE — Gary Byers, of South Point, has some bad memories of Symmes Creek and the boat dock that sets almost where the creek meets the Ohio River.

Glancing at the part of State Route 7 that overshadows part of the creek, he recalled that, “People used to come and dump their trash off the side up there, throw their trash off the bridge and let it flow into the Ohio River.”

But people like Byers got involved and now the dock is cleaner. Saturday, he was at the boat ramp to make some good memories. The Symmes Creek Restoration Committee’s annual Canoe Caper brought a couple dozen volunteers to clean litter from the lower portion of the waterway.

Organization president Grayson Thornton said the Canoe Caper, with its litter cleanup, is more symbolic than anything. It is meant to show not only those who participate but also those who live along the creek that keeping this waterway clean is everyone’s responsibility.

“It’s an idea,” Thornton explained. “It’s about making the creek valuable to the area and valuable to those who use it. If you use it, you should take care of it.”

Some of Saturday’s volunteers were members of Boy Scout Troop 115 of South Point, one group that has taken the canoe caper to its collective heart for the last several years. Scouts see the annual Canoe Caper as both community service and an adventure.

“It gives us a chance to go out in the water and do something for the community,” Boy Scout Alex Payne explained.

“And we like canoeing,” fellow scout Tyler Gregory added. Both like the adventure of seeing a creek from the inside out — a creek most people only see in passing.

“You get to see more stuff that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, the wildlife,” Gregory said. “Plus the peace and quiet.”

“And the tranquility,” troop member Harry Letchford added.

Tyler Gregory might have been an old hand at the canoe caper but his sister, Sierra, who is 13, still had her land legs and maybe just a bit of hesitancy.

“I thought I would come out and help people launch and somehow I’m going Canoeing,” Sierra Gregory said.

In addition to the community service and the camaraderie, the canoe caper has its contests, too: who can find the most garbage during their hour-long trip, and who can find the most unusual item. Thornton said the most unusual he can remember is a rusty stove.

“There have been things in that creek you wouldn’t believe,” Thornton said. “We found three boats in it. Fiberglass. They had moss growing on them and transoms out of them.”

One positive end result: people who live along the creek are becoming more careful about keeping it clean and keeping their property that borders the creek clean, too.

Thornton said he was impressed with boy scout Daniel Hughes who recently installed new parking posts on the edge of the parking lot. He is pleased with the cooperation his organization gets from government entities such as the Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District and the U.S. Forestry Service and from other civic groups with a conservationist outlook, such as the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which donated a canoe to raffle off.

“This place was about to go down the tubes,” Thornton said. “But we got a lot of help and it’s coming back up now. It’s going to be a nice place.”