Debris removal a volunteer effort in Florence

Tree debris collecting at the Fifth Street Bridge is a common occurrence in Florence. The challenge of clearing the branches and limbs has fallen on the shoulders of local volunteers led by Joel Hayes, 76, a longtime resident. It?s a familiar phenomenon each spring to see trapped debris under the Fifth Street Bridge in Florence, but some years are worse than others.

For Joel Hayes, 76, a long-time resident of the community and a volunteer in clearing the tree limbs and other litter that gets stuck, the job is an important one.

?(The debris) doesn?t completely dam the Cottonwood River,? he said. ?But it?s enough of a blockage that on one side it?s the levy and the other side is private property.?

According to Hayes and others, if nobody volunteered to remove debris, it could compromise the bridge or eventually erode the levy.

Built in the 1920s, the bridge used to be part of U.S. Highway 50 going through Florence, he said.

At that time, it was state-of-the-art, but bridges like the one in Florence, he said, aren?t constructed the same way with those two pillars.

?At one time, we even had eight gas stations in Florence because of (U.S. Highway) 50 and almost 4,000 people,? Hayes added.

Unfortunately, though, if the bridge should fail, Hayes said no one would be willing to build a new one.

?A new bridge would cost between $3 million and $4 million,? Hayes said, ?and I don?t think the state, county or our city could afford it.?

Hayes said to ensure it doesn?t come to that, he and brother Allen, Jeff Inlow, and his son, Josh, volunteer their time when the weather is warmer or in the spring.

Even though little of the debris is from Florence, it?s still something the people are responsible for.

?North of Florence there is a lot of private property,? he said.

Whenever someone cuts a tree for firewood close to the river bank, but leaves the tree stump, it could be a problem.

Hayes said if there?s a lot of spring rain or the Marion Reservoir needs to let water out, it causes the river to flow faster, and Florence gets whatever is downstream.

The Cottonwood River comes into Marion County near Durham, flows through Marion and Florence and continues on to Cedar Point and into Chase County, he said.

?(But a majority of debris) gets stopped in Florence,? he said. ?When the season is drier, it?s not a big issue, but any time it rains a lot, that?s when we have problems.?

Because the cost would be prohibitive for the city to hire someone on a regular basis, he and the other residents volunteer.

?We do need younger volunteers to help, though,? Hayes said.

?Dale Miller used to help, but he just can?t do it anymore.?

For Hayes it?s harder to do a lot of the physical work.

Trayce Warner, a city council member, said she agreed with Hayes that more volunteers are needed to clean up the debris and in other areas, too.

?We are all concerned about volunteers,? she said. ?In our (Florence) Chamber meetings most of us are almost 60 or older, which is the same with our Labor Day committee.?

Young people are not only needed because they are more physically able, but because volunteers help invest in their community.

?Volunteering is an opportunity to give back to the community,? she said, ?and it?s a way to promote that in our younger people.?

Anyone interested in helping on committees or with clearing the bridge area is encouraged to call the city office at 620-878-4371.

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