TRAVERSE CITY — Last year's Brown Bridge Dam breech swept docks, decks and other large debris down the Boardman River along with a torrent of pond water.
But most of that wreckage is now gone, thanks to Norman Fred, of Traverse City, and his nonprofit volunteer organization Boardman River Clean Sweep. The group, volunteers from the Traverse Area Paddle Club, and staffers from the Grand Traverse Conservation District spent two days last month pulling about 23 pieces of large refuse from a 6-mile stretch of river.
"These people do it for the love of the river," Fred said of the more than 20 volunteers who assisted in the cleanup. "I'm more than happy. I'm jubilant we got it done."
Clean Sweep began cleaning trash and refuse out of the Boardman almost 10 years ago. The group has since expanded its efforts to about 12 rivers in the region, including the Upper and Lower Platte, the Betsie and the Jordan rivers.
Volunteers pulled huge trash containers loaded with junk from the Boardman in Clean Sweep's earlier years, said Fred, Clean Sweep's chief executive officer. But the big loads turned to garbage bag loads over time, until the Brown Bridge Dam broke last fall.
"When the dam broke we were devastated," Fred said. "We'd worked so hard to get (the river) cleaned up."
Fred decided to mobilize a project to remove large pieces of structures from the worst damaged sections of the river. He obtained a $1,000 grant from the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a $2,000 grant from Rotary Charities, a big trash container from engineering firm AMEC and got to work.
He first traveled down the river with his son David Fred and Steve Largent of the Grand Traverse Conservation District and marked locations of large debris with GPS coordinates.