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Clackamas River clean up nets tons of trash

Last Sunday dawned a bit gray and chilly, but that did not slow down the more than 400 volunteers who flooded Barton Park, anxious to get out on the river for the 10th Annual Down the River Clean Up on the Clackamas. The event was sponsored by We Love Clean Rivers and the Clackamas River Basin Council, and all volunteers in non-motorized craft were invited to take part.

Some arrived carrying their own kayaks and rafts, while others manned the larger event rafts; and they had a mission: take out all the garbage their boats could carry.

Before the event began, Cheryl McGinnis, the executive director of the CRBC, reminded the volunteers of the importance of the event, but telling them that 400,000 people get their drinking water from the Clackamas River.

“This event benefits all those people, in addition to salmon and all aquatic life,” she added.

Next Sam Drevo, one of the founding board members of We Love Clean Rivers, told the assembled gathering that over the years 2,500 volunteers have removed 50,000 pounds of the trash from the river. He also noted that the day before this clean up, he and some colleagues removed nearly 5,000 feet of steel cable from the Clackamas River.

And, he added, that cable is not going to waste.

“Ben Dye, an Oregon City artist, has won the commission to use the cable to construct a legacy sculpture at Clackamette Park to commemorate this event,” Drevo said.

In addition, 17 other artists will also use the garbage taken out of the river to create art in The Ripple Effect art show, Oct. 12, 13 and 14 in Oregon City, Drevo said.

Finally, as boaters were champing at the bit to get on the river, Nastassja Pace, event coordinator for We Love Clean Rivers, told the group that nearly four tons of trash was removed from the Clackamas last year, and almost half of it was recycled.

‘Explosion of trash’

Three high school girls from Clackamas High School took part in the clean up, and they were there to give back to the environment, they said.

“There is trash everywhere on the river, and after we clean it up, we feel like we have accomplished something,” said Allison Smith, 16.

Her friend, Amber Harvey, 15, has participated in the event for two years, and said, “When you see the garbage trucks at the end, it is amazing to see how much trash was taken out of the river.”

Why is there so much garbage in the river?

“People don’t care; they just think about themselves,” said Abigail Robertson, 15. And the only way that might change is if people knew how much the beer cans, wrappers and other detritus hurt the river, she noted.

Teresa Collins, one of the leaders at the clean up, described the scene on the river as “an explosion of trash,” and told her group of volunteers what they could and could not pick up. Some of the potentially dangerous items, like propane tanks, were to be tagged, and later picked up by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department, she said.

Another group leader, Sarah Dodge, said that the clean up covered a five-mile section of the river, and each of five major “pods” was assigned to just clean one mile and meet up with garbage trucks at either Carver, Riverside or Clackamette parks in the afternoon.

Volunteers take a lot of plastic, broken glass and a “ridiculous amount of cigarette butts” out of the river, she said.

Garbage

At the first put-in spot at Carver Park, volunteers came to shore with some bags dedicated to recycling and other bags for flat-out garbage. The scene was a busy one, as volunteers dumped bags onto large tarps and started the sorting process.

Kricket Caffery, one of the artists associated with the project, began picking through the remains, looking for flip flops.

Last year she brought home two giant bins containing more than 200 single flip flops, and made a flip flop salmon for last year’s art show. Flip flops end up in the water, she said, because they are bad boating shoes, and simply fall off into the river and sink to the bottom.

Other participating artists were also on site to gather materials for their own art projects, using the trash that was picked up from the event.

Caffery, who is the artist coordinator for the event, is hoping that people will support The Ripple art show and silent auction on Oct. 12 at a number of sites on Main Street in Oregon City. The show will remain up until Oct. 14, as part of the weekend celebration for the re-opening of the Arch Bridge.

The day after the clean up, Pace, the event coordinator, characterized the activity as a huge success.

She added, “It makes me proud to see hundreds of people joining together and taking action to clean and preserve our local river. It’s all about making that personal connection to where our water comes from, and I feel this event really helps people make that important connection.” 

Fast facts 

The Ripple — an art walk, silent auction and meet-the-artists event

Oct. 12, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Main Street Oregon City, during the Arch Bridge re-opening event

The exhibit, which showcases art made from trash collected from the Clackamas River, will remain up through Oct. 14.

For more information, visit ripplepdx.com.

Register now for the Fourth Annual Great Willamette Clean Up, Saturday, Oct. 6, hosted by willamette-riverkeeper.org. Visit welovecleanrivers.org for more information.