What happened to Shingle Creek? 

Published 8:59 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

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Residents join with beautification groups to clean it and Suffolk up

Shingle Creek has seen better days. 

Running from the Dismal Swamp, through downtown Suffolk and into the Nansemond River, the creek is suffering from a build up of litter composed of both trash and recyclable waste. Thankfully, volunteers came to the area to help provide a clean up, which was in a 20 foot, steep basin that required boats and waders to help get the job accomplished.

“Shingle Creek is basically a system that goes from the Dismal Swamp to the Nansemond, so it’s pretty important,” said Suffolk Public Works Litter Control Coordinator and City Liaison for Suffolk Clean Community Commission and Keep Suffolk Beautiful Daniel McDonald. “And in this particular spot, it’s a section where the creek splits into about three or four parallel winding little creeks before it meets up just south of East Washington, and in between these little parallel creeks there’s islands, there’s bush, there’s fallen trees and there’s little individual tidal pools that litter can get trapped into.”

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McDonald said some of these areas are completely covered, meaning one can’t see the ground. He added that it is bad and countless areas are affected.

“We haven’t even really fully scouted the area. We walked across a fair amount of it, but there’s some areas that we haven’t gotten to yet,” he said.

McDonald said they received a grant from Keep Virginia Beautiful to install these floating litter collecting booms on Shingle Creek. These yellow vinyl sleeves take recyclable capped bottles and place them so they float. Any litter that collides with the boom is then pushed toward the shore to be collected.

“We were scouting locations and we spotted it and it was just an unimaginable amount of litter,” he said. “Just fields of litter and it’s stuck in our minds to the point where we mentioned it at the monthly meeting for the Suffolk Clean Community commission, and we just decided to do something about it.”

McDonald explained how litter piles up so quickly.

“In simple terms, rain washes litter to lower ground … which unfortunately tends to be waterways, and this one runs right through downtown, so it’s a high volume space,” he said. “And when it does rain, the water level on those creeks rise temporarily and it widens the creek bed and that allows litter to access areas that aren’t typically touched by water. This essentially causes litter to get into areas they can’t get out of, there’s little pools near shore that kind of open up and bring litter in and don’t release them.”

As bad as it looked, McDonald said they were fortunate the type of filtration system in this area kept it all out of the Nansemond River. 

“On one hand, it was the water level rising up and down constantly, over years it looked like, that it gathered a terrible amount of litter,” he said. “But we were fortunate in the way that it gathered it and kept it there for so long, because that was all headed for the river. And then the Chesapeake Bay, and then the ocean, and then so on.”

A group of 15, made up of volunteers from the Suffolk Clean Community Commission, friends of the program and six Nansemond-Suffolk Academy students, participated in relieving Shingle Creek of the trash that polluted the area. They collected 75 bags of litter, several larger items and 19 tires within the area, resulting in 2,300 pounds or 1.15 tons of trash collected.

“Bottles were the most common find, but we actually found a few dozen basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, stuff like that. Decades old items like old glass bottles, even old baby bottles, computer monitors,” McDonald said. “It was saddening to see that amount of litter, but it was fun in the sense that it was very heartening to pick it all up and see that you made a difference afterwards.” McDonald said the clean up experience was just intense picking up this much between 15 people over two hours.

McDonald provided general tips to local residents on how they help keep both the creek and the city of Suffolk clean.

“It’s really quite simple, it all comes down to a matter of choices really. Starting off you can buy reusable items such as refillable bottles and things like that to lessen the waste that you create to begin with,” he said.

He also believes that more than 80% of what they picked up was recyclable.

McDonald urged residents to make sure that items get to a recycling bin, or a trash bin, or a dumpster, noting this goes a long way to combating litter. A lot of the litter they had to contend with got onto the streets out of a car.

“Just holding on to it and being able to make that choice to do the right thing is a big deal,” McDonald explained. “Also, open trash and recycling bin lids, overflowing bins are a big source of litter, so it helps to be mindful of that.”

Ultimately, everyone just needs to remember that litter doesn’t disappear, he said.

“Many of the items we found will be around for several years and outlast all of us,” McDonald said. “Litter has to go somewhere, and unfortunately it tends to be waterways like Shingle Creek.” 

Anyone wanting to become involved will have the opportunity when Keep Suffolk Beautiful holds a St. Patrick’s Day River Cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon March 18 at Constant’s Wharf Park and Marina located at 100 E. Constance Road. For more information, go to suffolkva.us/237/Public-Works or call 757-514-7604.