‘Call it a Goodyear’: Partnership sees removal of more than 10,000 tires from the Tug Fork

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Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 3:56 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2023 at 6:28 PM EDT
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BURNWELL, Ky. (WYMT) - Friends of the Tug Fork River has been working tirelessly, removing rubber from the region’s waterways.

“We’re talking about, you know, 100 years worth of sin,” said Keith Gibson, owner and operator of Hatfield McCoy Airboat Tours. “We pulled tires out of here that come off old T-model Fords.”

The group, working with volunteers and work crews from Kentucky and West Virginia, has been hosting ‘Tire Tug of War’ events on the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River for the last five years.

“I get a little discouraged at times because you’ll think, ‘Man, you’re just not making a difference.’ But it definitely makes a difference. Every tire gone is a tire gone,” said Gibson. “I would say we’ll call it a Goodyear.”

Now, with more than 10,000 tires dredged from the depths after Wednesday’s tire tug, the group is celebrating a small victory as it looks for more volunteers to escalate the efforts.

“It’s important to our area,” said Friends of the Tug Fork River VP John Burchett. “It’s important to the future of this area.”

He and Gibson said they know how much the waterways mean to the development of adventure tourism. According to Gibson, the tires in the water are usually included in the feedback he gets from tourists who hit the water with his company, but always second to the friendliness of the people.

“I think it would be great, you know, if everybody realized what the tourist realized,” said Gibson. “How beautiful this area is and how important it is- you know, not only for us or the tourist, but for our kids and grandkids- to have a cleaner environment.”

With the equipment and expertise of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP) Program, and the partnerships working across state lines, those involved say they are lucky to have the workers on the water.

“And we’re lucky that we have two states that are helping,” said Burchett. “If we were at inland- in one inland river, in one state- we would only have one state to work with.”

Burchett said Pike County and Mingo County, as well as the two state governments, have worked well together to keep the project rolling.

“A lot of times, you think that’s going to make things harder. But the way West Virginia and Kentucky have come together... it’s been amazing the amount of help we’ve got and the difference we’re able to make in the river,” Burchett said.

Though a lot of help has been provided, he said hands are needed.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of tires in this river. We’re doing a pretty good job of putting a dent in it, but we really need more volunteers out here with us,” he said.

You can find more information about the group and its cleanups here.