Donald Wodtkey lives northwest of Bristol, near the St. Joseph River. After losing his job with a Bristol employer, he was looking for ways to earn money. One day in early July he noticed that the St. Joseph River, near the bridge in Bristol, was so low that he could see submerged objects that were not previously visible. When he investigated further, Donald found many discarded metal items that could be recovered and sold as scrap metal.
Wodtkey discovered a “silver lining” in the drought which has been devastating to area farmers and many others. With the St. Joseph River being about two feet lower than normal, Donald was able to wade in and pull out junk of all kinds. He eventually hauled off about 2,400 pounds of metal, which he sold to area scrap dealers.
Some of the recovered items, like brake drums from a semi, weighed 100 pounds each. Donald retrieved about 40 tire rims, including some that were buried in the river bed. Other commonly found items were metal posts from boat docks that had washed away and lodged in the river bottom near Bristol. Automobile and RV parts of all kinds were also reclaimed.
Since he fishes the river in this area, Donald has seen the river in many different seasons and conditions. He said that he has “never seen so many clams and mussels” on the river bottom as there are now. He added that he saw a lot of fish, adding that there is still “real good fishing” in the St. Joe River near Bristol.
Wodtkey has received varied reactions to his activities. Most people have applauded him for cleaning up the river, but one person accused him of “destroying habitat” for fish and other aquatic life forms.
Donald is now looking for other likely spots to continue his river “clean-up.” Although the river is up about two inches from the recent rains, there are still areas that are shallow enough to permit items to be seen that were previously hidden from view.