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Pawleys Island: Creek Sweep aspires to Spring Tide

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

For the second Pawleys Creek Sweep, the tide was high, letting volunteers get out of the pluff mud where they had grappled with debris last fall and into the higher reaches of the marsh that separates Pawleys Island from the rest of Waccamaw Neck.

It wasn’t a spring tide, the astronomical high, nor was it a Spring Tide, the all-out community effort that Murrells Inlet has held for 20 years.

But organizers are optimistic that will change.

“It will get there,” said Howard Ward, who chairs the town Planning Commission.

Saturday’s sweep drew about 25 people, including three members of Town Council, a state wildlife officer and a handful of children.

Organizers tried to interest Boy Scouts in the project, and hoped state Rep. Kevin Ryan would show up to help. Neither did.

But with the small but eager band, they were able to fill about half of a county-issued trash bin.

Debbie Mann, the county conservationist for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, rode around the island in her pickup collecting bags of trash that volunteers brought to shore.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said her husband, Steve, had his eye on a fiberglass shower buried in the creek behind their house. “He thinks we can just pull it out,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Like many of the large pieces Creek Sweep volunteers collect, the shower is a remnant of Hurricane Hugo, which caused heavy damage to the island in 1989.

It was Hugo that inspired Murrells Inlet residents to start their Spring Tide cleanup. That was part of the ongoing recovery from the storm.

The Pawleys Creek Sweep began as part of a state-funded project to reduce pollution in the Pawleys Creek watershed, which covers 5,250 acres.

The effort has focused on sources of fecal coliform bacteria, which has kept the creek closed to shellfish harvesting for decades.

The sweep is a way to raise the profile of the project and attract volunteers, who are needed to keep the project going once the $300,000 grant expires. This is the third year, and the conservation service is asking the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for a one-year extension.

“It’s a work in progress,” Mann said. “I know it will continue to grow with each sweep.”

Ward plans to recruit volunteers from neighborhoods on the west side of the creek for the September cleanup, which will coincide with the national Beach and River Sweep. “I’ll try to put a guilt trip on them,” he said.

Most of the trash collected Saturday came from the area below the South Causeway.

Jimmy McCants organized volunteers in the north end of the creek, but said all the fishing boats made it hard to maneuver.

Mann hopes to hold the sweep earlier next spring. “It was so busy,” she said. “The landings were full, the beach was full.”

She didn’t blame the people who spent the morning fishing rather than gathering trash. “I was ready to go fishing myself,” she said.

Along the edge of the Prince George tract west of the island’s narrow south end, volunteers found debris from houses damaged by Hurricane Hugo along with more recent trash such as drink containers and food wrappers, Ward said.

He believes there is more storm debris to be found. “We need to get into the bottom of the creek,” he said.

A project in 2009 that removed sand shoals from the creek was hindered by building debris that damaged the dredge and clogged its pipeline. Ward said volunteers found some items he thinks came from the dredge.

“On the whole, Pawleys Creek is very clean,” Mann said. Whether the Hugo debris still needs to come out after more than 20 years in the creek depends on whether it poses a hazard. “Nothing’s an obstacle for a kayak,” she said. “It may be a hazard for a fisherman.”

The two sweeps have put a dent in the creek debris, she said. Organizers of other cleanups have encouraged her to take a long-term view, and by that measure she counts the sweeps as a success.

“It’s such a good group of people,” Mann said. “Their heart is really in the creek.”

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