Cowper Chadbourn creatively floats on a discarded culvert as part of the group’s trash retrieval.
Category: Features

Arkansas Canoe Club cleans up state waterways

Arkansas Canoe Club volunteers at the Saline Crossing Regional Park and Recreation Area for the annual Black Friday Cleanup.

“Epic” is the best word to describe the cleanup adventures of Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Retrieval (BOATR). It began as a group of friends in the Arkansas Canoe Club who met regularly to retrieve trash and large objects that littered the state’s waterways. They enjoyed the challenge of plotting creative methods to haul out everything from run-of-the-mill trash to abandoned ski boats, portable toilets, mattresses, TVs, refrigerators and, of course, LOTS of tires.

Since its founding in 2015, the group has made a significant impact, removing over 200 tons of garbage from Arkansas’ streams and tributaries. This includes over 6,000 tires — ranging from small temporary tires still mounted on a rim to tractor tires as tall as the crew members who hauled them out — precariously balanced atop their boats.

Co-founder Cowper Chadbourn and his troop of dedicated volunteers are legends among Arkansas paddlers. Tales of BOATR cleanup escapades are a recurring topic of conversation whenever boaters gather.

Volunteers remove a 7-cubic-foot metal trash receptacle from the Buffalo National River in an effort nicknamed ”The Giant Dumpster Adventure.”

A favorite story often recounted is “The Giant Dumpster Adventure.” During the 2015 flood, a 7-cubic-foot metal trash receptacle at Tyler Bend Recreation Area was swept into the Buffalo National River. BOATR’s recovery process proved far from easy. At the end of a long day on their initial attempt, they were unable even to budge the dumpster off the bottom of the river. Chadbourn was reminded of Chief Brody’s famous phrase from the movie “Jaws” — “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

And come back with a bigger boat they did. A large wooden frame was constructed to house a set of cataraft tubes used on whitewater rafts. Using pulleys anchored on the shore, they tilted the dumpster up enough to slide the frame underneath. Once the dumpster was positioned atop the frame, they aired up the tubes to lift it off the bottom and pull it to shore. After repairing numerous holes in the dumpster, they rowed the makeshift barge downstream to the nearest access. In total, the operation required four outings.

Coming clean

BOATR outings are not limited to trash that is only accessible by water. They also schedule cleanups in communities such as Benton, where this writer joined one of their annual Black Friday Cleanups. The event included a group of boats led by Debbie Doss to clean up a section of the Saline River. However, the “main target” of the cleanup was the Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreation Area (SCRPRA).

A discarded toilet, carried by volunteer Tonya Sacomani, is one of the many finds at the Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreation Area annual Black Friday Cleanup.

The crossing had been part of the historic Southwest Trail, a major route for early travelers enroute to Texas and other southwest settlements. Legendary figures such as Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Davy Crockett crossed at the very spot where BOATR picked up trash. SCRPRA has plans to preserve this historical area and establish a public river access for visitors.

“Saline Crossing has such a rich history; it’s truly an honor to serve and assist with others to preserve that history for generations to come,” said Michael Sacomani, SCRPRA president and a fellow volunteer.

With pickup tools clicking and gloved hands grabbing, the team set to work filling a 30-yard dumpster. In all, a set of box springs, two mattresses, a rotted sofa, a toilet, a fire extinguisher, appliances, tires of all sizes and countless pieces of garbage were collected.

It was rewarding to play a role in converting what had become a popular dumpsite into a scenic location where families could spend quality time outdoors.

“These organized cleanups are great for Arkansas communities,” Chadbourn explained. “But tackling litter is not a one-day-a-year event. Visitors need to gather a little trash every time they go out.”

Making a splash

Although Chadbourn doesn’t want people to believe the battle has been won, it does appear their efforts are paying off. The Buffalo National River is an example of progress. As of last month, they had only collected 17 tires for the entire year. Years ago, there were times they retrieved that many tires from the river in a single day.

More than 6,000 tires of all sizes have been removed from waterways by the Arkansas Canoe Club since 2015.

Chadbourn’s efforts to educate the public on proper tire disposal also contribute to reducing the number of discarded tires. He directs people to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality website ( to learn the nearest location where they can drop off four tires monthly, free of charge, for disposal.

Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Retrieval (BOATR) co-founder Cowper Chadborn and another volunteer remove a discarded boat.

Visit ACC BOATR’s Facebook page to stay abreast of their activities. While there, check out the Feb. 28 post of Arkansas Off-Road Recovery (AORR)’s video. They removed a Toyota pickup that was stranded in Archey Fork of the Little Red River. It was so remote and difficult to reach that it had been stranded in the creek for over a year.

Joshua Sperry, AORR owner, said, “There’s nothing worse when floating a beautiful creek than coming across an eyesore like this. Let’s keep our rivers clean!”