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Father, son plan trip to clean river

LAWRENCEVILLE - Chris Simpson has always wanted to kayak down the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico.

But that trip takes a month - more time than the 26-year-old and his father have to spend on the open water.

Instead, the father-son duo will make the most of their weeklong excursion down the river, partnering with a new statewide anti-litter campaign to clean up the Chattahoochee.

Mike Simpson, Chris' 55-year-old father, said the trip was originally a last adventure for the pair before the end of summer. But as he began to research the trip, Mike came across Gov. Sonny Perdue's new anti-litter campaign.

As Trailblazers - volunteers in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area - the Simpsons spend so much time picking up trash that they say it is second nature to them. But they jumped at the opportunity to make more people aware of the strain bottles and plastic bags have on the environment with their trip.

"The public forgets how easy and fun taking care of natural resources can be," Chris said. "If you're creative with your methods a little bit, you can enjoy picking up litter while you're enjoying kayaking."

The pair will take off from the Buford Dam at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, on their way to Columbus. Along the way, they will pull cups, shoes and other trash from the water, take some garbage off the shore, camp out at night and eat MREs - Meals Ready to Eat.

Because much of the land along the Chattahoochee is private property, the Simpsons will not be able to clean up a lot of the shoreline for fear of trespassing. Most of their focus will be on garbage in the water - what Chris called floaters - and they will note larger items like tires that they can't handle in a kayak.

Mike said they will bring 120 33-gallon garbage bags with them on the journey, disposing of them at local businesses when they pass under roads, or at recreation centers. The extra work will lengthen the amount of time it takes them to travel about 200 miles down the river.

Chris said other people have taken longer trips down the Chattahoochee, but that he thinks his will be the most meaningful.

"We've committed to actively making it a productive experience," he said. "It's a very good month to bring focus to the rivers in the state of Georgia."

Picking up some trash that came out of a storm drain at Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville Friday, Chris said most people don't realize that the garbage they toss into sewer grates eventually makes its way to the river.

Mike said the problem with litter is that to most people, it's invisible.

"They just don't see it," he said. "It's a matter of awareness. It's well within their sight, but they don't see it. They walk by it, they step on it, they don't see it."

Neither Mike nor Chris said they expected an innocent family trip to become such a big deal, but both were pleased by support they received from the Department of Natural Resources and their campaign, "Litter. It costs you."

Chris said he's pleased to be able to give back to nature with the project, and especially excited that the trip will happen on the Chattahoochee.

"It's an adventure," he said. "The river's got energy, it has life to it. I feel so much more a part of it."