800 volunteers haul trash out of Spokane River in 15th annual cleanup event
John Rosenberger overturned a rock on the shore of the Spokane River, reached down and grabbed an old pink lipstick tube. He tossed it to his friend, Ian Smith, who dropped it in a plastic bag to join a jumble of other discarded, grimy and waterlogged junk.
“It’s a lot more pleasant on the river when there’s no trash,” said Smith, who often swims in the river during the summer.
The two Gonzaga University seniors joined hundreds of other volunteers for the 15th annual Spokane River Clean-Up on Saturday for a day of hauling mattresses, shopping carts and any garbage or recycling they could find out of the river. The event, hosted by The Lands Council, covered Spokane Valley, the University District, the Downtown River Gorge area and Riverside State Park.
“The fall is a great time to do this,” said Jerry White Jr., Spokane River Keeper program director. It’s when the water is low and all the garbage is exposed and ripe for the picking, he said.
About 800 signed up to help, the most the event has ever had, said Kris Major, solid waste education coordinator for the City of Spokane.
“We spent a lot of work getting the word out, and people care about the river,” she said.
Major said she won’t know how much garbage was removed until about Tuesday, but last year saw 4 tons of debris removed from the river by some 600 volunteers.
Dan Shaffer floated down the river in some minor rapids in his yellow cataraft with bags of trash strapped to the back. He was one in a crowd of kayaks and rafts that would stop on shore if they saw garbage, collect it and continue floating on.
“I just hate to see trash,” said the retired physician, who’s floated in the cleanup for years. “Getting it out makes the river even prettier.”
Shaffer this year didn’t find anything weird – unlike 10 or so years ago when he found a severed horse head – though White said volunteers did find a “great big teddy bear.”