092117 Ride the Tide: Messing about in floats to aid the Waccamaw Riverkeeper
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Ride the Tide: Messing about in floats to aid the Waccamaw Riverkeeper

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Cara Schildtknecht doesn’t spend as much time as she likes on the Waccamaw River. On Saturday, she got to spend time in the river.

“Ah, it’s delightful,” she said, her arms stretched out and her head back as the current carried her along past the cypress trees that border the former rice fields on the Waccamaw Neck.

Better still, at the end of the trip was a party and a $7,300 donation for the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, a job Schildtknecht took over in May. She was part of the third annual Ride the Tide event from Litchfield Plantation to Hagley Landing organized by Giving It Forward Together, known as GIFT.

The Riverkeeper is a program of the Winyah Rivers Foundation that advocates for water quality through monitoring and educational programs. That does involve spending time on the river. “I feel like we paddle a lot,” said Laila Johnston, the Winyah Bay coordinator for American Rivers, which works with the Riverkeeper program. “We’re going to tube it today,” she said as she inflated three floats with a portable air pump at the Litchfield Plantation Marina.

GIFT has a stock of about 50 floats that it provides for participants. There were also scores of kayaks from the Pawleys Island Kayak Co. and Black River Expeditions ready for participants who didn’t arrive with boats of their own.

Matt Lowenbach, who founded GIFT, expected about 60 participants. He would like to reach 100. He wasn’t riding, but his daughter Nina, a student at Winthrop University, floated the 4 miles with Erin Hill, a friend from Mount Pleasant, who was participating for the first time. “I’m assuming it’s pretty laid back,” Hill said.

“I really like it,” Nina Lowenbach said. “It’s not strenuous.”

The hardest part seemed to be knowing what to pack. Patty Robertson of Georgetown and Daphne Cleland of Hagley had a cooler between their floats. “Beer, wine, sandwiches,” said Robertson, listing the contents. “Stuff girls might need while floating in the river.”

The river is influenced by the ocean tides for about 40 miles. The ride started on the falling tide so there was no doubt the floaters would go anywhere but downstream. A handful of power boats and personal watercraft, including a team from Midway Fire and Rescue, stood by to help any floats that drifted too close to shore.

Billy Arnold of Pawleys Island and Katherine Dorn of Alexandria, Va., bobbed on the wake of a passing motor boat. It was their first time riding the tide. “It sounded like a fun afternoon,” Arnold said. Halfway to Hagley Landing, he was already make plans to build his own float for next year. “I’m thinking of going for a floating picnic table,” Arnold said.

With the air temperature in the 80s and the water temperature in the mid 70s, it was inevitable some of the floaters would abandon their tubes. Madison Keyes, a graduate student at Coastal Carolina, was the first in Schildtknecht’s group to take the plunge. The Riverkeeper followed. So did Hunter Brooke Arrington, another Coastal Carolina student. Johnston stayed with the floats.

Although the water is dark and known as blackwater, it’s clean, Schildtknecht said. The color comes from the tannins that leach into the water from decaying vegetation. Arrington spent part of the trip gazing into the water rather than at the surroundings. She was looking at the turbidity, the cloudiness of the water.

It isn’t the particles you can see that affect water quality, Schildtknecht said. A new parameter that’s drawing attention is microplastics. “A major source is the discharge coming from your washing machine,” she said.

But that was a topic for another day as the string of floats mingled with passing kayaks, a couple of paddleboards and Steve Boatner’s aluminum Grumman canoe. Boatner, who lives in Myrtle Beach, was also new to Ride the Tide. He was drawn by the cause. “We try to help out when it comes to the river,” he said.

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