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story.lead_photo.caption Bob Tyler (left) and Roger Head feel good about the trophy mattress they pulled from Cadron Creek during an Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Removal outing Nov. 24. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)

The Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Removal team's epic cleanup excursions on Arkansas waterways are legendary among paddlers.

Outings like "The Giant Dumpster Adventure" contribute to their celebrity. On that mission, these volunteer trash haulers recovered a 7-cubic-foot metal dumpster that had washed into the Buffalo River from Tyler Bend State Park during the flood of 2015.

The dumpster was upside on the river bottom. First they tried to pump air into its cavity using a blower, to float it to the surface. This generated a froth of bubbles, from a number of rusted-out holes, including one that was 6 feet long that ran along the bottom edge. The dumpster did not budge.

Due to commitments and other interruptions, two months passed before they were able to schedule a return visit. This gave Cowper (pronounced "Cooper") Chadbourn, the black ops co-founder, time to come up with a second plan of attack.

The new idea involved constructing a large, floating wooden crane, complete with cataraft tubes and a number of pulleys.

Positioning the improvised lift over the dumpster, and then diving underwater to attach the pulley system's ropes to the dumpster's bottom, they were able to raise it just enough to move to a more gradually sloping bank, across the river — where, using more pulleys and man/woman power, they rolled the dumpster over and then dragged it up the bank and secured it to a tree.

During subsequent visits, using boards, expanding foam and other materials, they repaired the holes.

On Day 5, by using 4-inch PVC pipe to re-enact the roller methods ancient Egyptians used to move large stone blocks, they rolled the dumpster back into the water for a two-day float to their takeout in Gilbert.

Black Ops Advanced Trash Removal has earned its legend status.

Since the formation of the group in 2014, Chadbourn said, they have retrieved two of these giant dumpsters, as well as portable toilets, refrigerators, washers, stoves ... and tires, lots of tires. In total, over the past two years, they have hauled more than 2,446 tires out of the state's streams.

Chadbourn believes people dump tires in the drainages to avoid some high cost for having them disposed of properly. But they are misinformed.

He explained that Arkansans are allowed to turn in as many as four tires a month for disposal, free of charge. All they have to do is go to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's website to learn where to deliver tires in their area. At, search for "authorized waste tire."

Volunteers also have hauled more than 124,685 pounds of garbage from Arkansas waterways in the past two years.

I first heard about the black ops team earlier this year while floating Bayou DeView (see the story in the June 11 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) with another environmental champion, Debbie Doss. As we paddled along, she shared interesting stories about outings that she and her husband had made to rid the state's waterways of ugly trash. As it turned out, Cowper Chadbourn is her husband.


The bold lettering on the "ACC BOATR" Facebook page read, "The 7th Annual Black Friday Cleanup."

What better way to escape the hordes of bargain hunters who fill the stores and streets on the day after Thanksgiving, I thought to myself. I decided this would be my inaugural black ops outing.

I met the group under the U.S. 65 bridge over the North Fork of Cadron Creek, just north of Greenbrier.

"This is our takeout," explained Chadbourn, as he orchestrated the loading of gear and shuttle arrangements to the upstream put-in.

Our main focus for the day was to recover a fiberglass fishing boat that had been an eyesore on the creek for some time.

The volunteers had first spotted the boat wrapped around a tree in a whitewater section known as Daddy's Knee. But while reconnoitering in preparation for this outing, Chadbourn discovered that the craft had washed downstream and become entangled in a different stand of trees.

As I learned early in the outing, although he makes sure these excursions are fun, Chadbourn is serious about the goal. An engineer who retired from the Arkansas Nuclear One reactor, he attends to details and makes analytical plans. I also noticed that his regular volunteers rely on Chadbourn to have a Plan B.

Although our main objective was the boat, as we drifted along Cadron Creek, the group scrutinized the banks for trash and stopped to snare it.

Cowper Chadbourn figures out a way to retrieve a plastic bucket lodged between giant boulders. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)
Cowper Chadbourn figures out a way to retrieve a plastic bucket lodged between giant boulders. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)

Chadbourn said trash removal should be part of a boater's lifestyle. Pick up trash during every outing. He appreciates people showing up for scheduled cleanups but doesn't want them to believe trash removal is only a group responsibility. He actually prefers that all boaters haul trash out every time they are on the water.

If everyone picked up even small amounts of trash during routine floats, then group efforts would only be required for epic flotsam that individuals can't handle.

From this discussion he segued into another topic he is passionate about, the need for a container deposit law in Arkansas. He shared his opinion on this with me, and I felt certain he had also shared with many others.

Ten states and Guam have laws that charge a deposit for beverages bought in a container. Deposits range from 2 to 15 cents. The money is refunded upon return of the containers. The result is less litter, he said.


We progressed down the creek, regularly diverting to the shore to collect hunks of Styrofoam, drink containers, remnants of a solo inflatable raft, plastic buckets, metal parts from a stove or refrigerator, and a large sheet of plywood.

The group became noticeably excited when I recovered an orange traffic cone partly buried in the sand. Items than can be reused were of particular interest to everyone.

But my biggest "bonus" find was a queen-size mattress draped over small trees at the water's edge.

My first thought was our distance from the nearest road that we could use to truck out a mattress. But my concern was unwarranted, for as another volunteer, Bob Tyler, assured me, "This isn't our first mattress retrieval."

To be exact, this was the third mattress or box springs the team retrieved this year from Cadron Creek.

We set about wrestling the mattress across the gunwales of Tyler's canoe. Then we struggled to lift the opposite end from the water while others pushed Roger Head's canoe under it.

Maneuvering a new and firm mattress is awkward. When it is noodle-flimsy with age and soaked in water, awkward doesn't begin to describe how difficult it is to manipulate.

With several of us pulling on the reluctant mattress while others pushed, we finally situated the pad across a pair of canoes. We lashed the boats together at each end, and we were once again paddling downstream, in search of our next challenge.


After five hours of floating and collecting trash, the current pushed our boats head-on at a tall wall of downed trees. Recent flooding had stacked them against still-standing trees on a rocky shoal.

Maneuvering our boats around these downed trees, which extended several feet out over the water, we eddied into the pocket of calm behind the blockade — and came face-to-face with a fiberglass fishing boat. It was partly submerged and wedged in the heap of dead timber.

We had arrived at our destination.

Roger Head (left) and Cowper Chadbourn work at dislodging a trashed boat from its nest in downed trees. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)
Roger Head (left) and Cowper Chadbourn work at dislodging a trashed boat from its nest in downed trees. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)

As I studied the boat and asked what we needed to do first, Tyler confidently responded, "Cowper will have a plan."

Indeed he did. Chadbourn grabbed a rope to begin climbing over the stacked trees toward the ensnared boat, calling back for Tyler and Head to bring a bowsaw and loppers.

They trimmed away the branches that restrained the boat. Chadbourn then fastened an end of his rope to the boat's upright stern. Instructing Mike Sprague to maneuver his canoe closer, Chadbourn tossed him the opposite end of the rope and told him not to pull on the rope, but to just keep it from entangling branches as he paddled to the shore.

They manhandled the entrenched boat out of its nest and gently worked it down into the stream — at which time everyone on the shore began hauling the rope, to guide the craft ashore before it filled with water.

It worked.

They clearly relished the challenge of dislodging that boat from the jumble of trees. But as Chadbourn rummaged through a pair of toolboxes in his boat, pulling out various pieces of equipment, I could tell they were equally excited about the next phase of the recovery — making the battered boat seaworthy.

Chadbourn tossed Head a towel, and he began wiping black scum from the boat's bottom.

"Hey, that's my favorite beach towel!" Doss exclaimed.

After scrubbing the entire hull with Doss' "former" favorite towel, the group stepped back to assess the extent of damages.

One side was bashed in, causing a break in the fiberglass from the gunwale to the bottom. There were other cuts and holes on the hull.

"I think we can fix it," Chadbourn said.

With that the crew set about to repair the boat. They applied a layer of Flex Tape across breaks and holes. Flex Tape first because it would adhere better to damp surfaces. This was followed by a layer of Gorilla tape. And for the final touch, Chadbourn smeared Stay Afloat sealant in a gaping gash on the boat's bottom side.

Satisfied with their handiwork, they flipped the boat and Chadbourn pushed it away from the shore and climbed aboard.

Cowper Chadbourn paddles a barely seaworthy fiberglass boat found twisted and trashed among trees — the prize for the day during an Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Removal outing Nov. 24 on Cadron Creek. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)
Cowper Chadbourn paddles a barely seaworthy fiberglass boat found twisted and trashed among trees — the prize for the day during an Arkansas Canoe Club Black Ops Advanced Trash Removal outing Nov. 24 on Cadron Creek. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/BOB ROBINSON)

Once again our fleet set off down the creek.

What a sight we would have been for a passerby: Chadbourn standing port side of the battered and patched boat to keep the bashed-in starboard side above the waterline; Head and Tyler, their two canoes strapped together with the queen mattress draped across them, with Kim Little perched atop the mattress; Sprague's canoe piled high with a colorful assortment of trash.

We pulled more than 630 pounds of debris from one of The Natural State's beautiful streams.

It was a good day.

Bob Robinson is the author of Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail, Bicycling Guide to Route 66 and Bicycling Guide to the Lake Michigan Trail (

Style on 12/10/2018

Print Headline: Black Ops team takes down and floats out massive rubbish dumped into pristine Arkansas streams

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  • Jfish
    December 10, 2018 at 8:32 a.m.

    Ah yes, the Natural State with all of its trashed streams. Kudos to these folks for the work that they do, it is just pathetic that they have to do it.

  • jumpedcut
    December 10, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    FYI - there is no Tyler Bend State Park, it's all part of the Buffalo National River. There were actually two state parks along the river (Lost Valley and Buffalo Point), but those were absorbed into the National Park in 1972.

  • Knuckleball1
    December 10, 2018 at 10:49 a.m.

    Good Work by Great People picking up after the slobs that live in and trash this state. Some is not intentionally done but more trash is dumped intentionally than by accident. Just look at our roadways...

  • MaxCady
    December 10, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    Are there really any pristine streams in Arkansas? Only trash litters.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 10, 2018 at 6:24 p.m.

    Awesome sauce! Lead the WAY!

  • Longhaul
    December 10, 2018 at 10:21 p.m.

    What a great group of individuals, to bad every state doesn't have people like this.
    But what is really bad is all of the sorry folks that are the problem & except someone else to pick up after them.

  • Popsmith
    December 10, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

    Sure sounds like fun.

  • WeirdThoughtsFromRabidDogs
    December 11, 2018 at 2:06 a.m.

    Only Trash Litters! Thank you to everyone involved in keeping our Beautiful State clean from Trash. If everyone would work to make the places they go nicer than before they got there, then our state would get better, and better with each passing day.