Delaware river cleanup brings close encounter with mysterious metal saucer

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Delaware workers remove an 880-pound metal disc from the Olentangy River on Aug. 31. The disc -- which turned out to be a floating "top" from a nearby campground -- was discovered during an Aug. 22 river-cleanup event.

The truth is out there – and Delaware city workers thought maybe they’d stumbled upon a piece of it in the Olentangy River.

Two workers in the city’s public utilities department who helped lead an Aug. 22 volunteer cleanup of the river discovered an enormous chunk of metal that resembles the Apollo 11 space capsule – or perhaps something else.

“They joked that it was a UFO,” said Caroline Cicherchi, the city’s watershed and sustainability coordinator.

It took a city backhoe to remove the 880-pound object from the river.

The city posted a photo of the mystery item on its Facebook page Aug. 31, and two people quickly identified it as a “top” from Whitesands Campground, 341 Lake St.

Whitesands owner Gene Monte said Whitesands has two “tops” – so named from their resemblance to a child’s spinning top – that float in the water flat-side up. Like smaller tops, they can be made to spin when a swimmer climbs aboard, he said.

The one pulled from the Olentangy washed away in the May 19 flood, Monte said.

“The flood washed out my beaches and everything, and I had the top sitting on the grass area where the campers go,” Monte said. “One of the campers said the water was so swift it picked up the top and floated it right down the river.”

The city took the top to Sims Brothers Recycling, 65 London Road, which Monte said called him about two hours after the top came out of the river.

He said the top will need some repair work, but he’s eager to get it back.

“I’d like to see the equipment stay in use,” he said.

Monte said he opened Whitesands about 30 years ago and purchased the tops and other water features from the late Jack Eckels when he closed Eckels Lake along Pollock Road.

Eckels Lake has a Facebook page that says the lake opened in 1942, at the site of a former quarry. A page on the Delaware County Historical Society website said the lake later was drained.

Monte, who said he was a lifeguard at Eckels Lake in his youth, estimated the tops are at least 60 years old.

Along with the tops, he also bought from Eckels a rolling barrel and swinging rings, which still are in use at Whitesands. A water slide was added later.

“You can say, ‘Whitesands top finds its way home from spring flood,’ ” Monte said with a laugh.

The Aug. 22 river cleanup is an annual event, and Cicherchi said 20 volunteers participated this year.

The river’s level was ideal for the cleanup and the weather was perfect, she said.

“Everyone showed up wearing masks and practiced social distancing,” Cicherchi said.

The volunteers collected from the river 45 bags of trash and 1,060 pounds of scrap metal that was recycled, Cicherchi said.

The top wasn’t the only oddity discovered.

“We found an old typewriter, a toy gun, part of a vacuum and two old bikes,” she said.

“There was significantly less trash in the river after our huge haul last year, which was very encouraging,” she said. “No tires were found compared to almost a dozen in 2019.”

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