DUNNELLON, Fla. — One of Florida’s natural waterways is getting some much needed help.
A special grant has been awarded toward restoration efforts on the Rainbow River. It comes after a major push by people who live in the area. A push that is being done with one rake at a time.
For Art Jones, there’s nothing quite like the view from his own back yard.
“It’s just so full of life," he said, as he overlooks the Rainbow River. “A lot of people that come and look at the river, they think, ‘Wow this is beautiful.' But they don’t realize that it’s in decline."
A decline, Jones said, that started roughly 35 years ago because of an invasive plant.
“What happened to this river is it was invaded by hydrilla," Jones said. "Now hydrilla’s a nice plant, it grows really fast though. It’s from southeast Asia and it came over with the aquarium industry and as it got into the environment, it just started taking over.”
That caused a chain reaction of issues in the water. It’s what motivated him to start his nonprofit One Rake At A Time.
“When the state sprays the hydrilla, they don’t take it out. So they’ll spray it and it will sort of die but it’s up to the people that live on the river to take out the dead hydrilla.”
Every day, Jones is out here on the water doing just that, cllearing the river one rake at a time. He’s even collected jars of the stuff throughout the years and used as evidence he presents to those higher up. And now it’s paying off.
“I got a call from someone and they went, ‘You got it! You got it, it came thru!’ and I said, 'Wait a minute, are you sure? We weren’t expecting to get the news until July. Am I dreaming?'” he said.
That news is a grant in the amount of $1.8 million and being awarded for restoration efforts on the river.
“We’re going to use this money to clean the dirtiest part of the river and plant eelgrass," Jones said. "If it meets our expectations, then we’ll apply for another grant and go up the river. Wherever the river needs cleaning, we’re going to clean it.”
Jones said that project can take up to five years. And, if all goes well, it may lead to further cleanup efforts throughout the state.
“Hopefully this project begins here on the Rainbow River but will take care of this whole watershed up here between the Rainbow River and the Withlacoochee River. Both incredible rivers in Florida, both so worth saving,” he said.