BC River’s Day volunteers declining but garbage growing

Organizers estimate 53,000 pounds of waste removed this year

Volunteer numbers may be taking a nosedive in an annual river cleanup in Trail but the amount of garbage removed continues to pile up each year.

Since its inception in 2008, the local B.C. Rivers Day cleanup organized by the Greater Trail Skills Centre has resulted in about 100,000 pounds of debris lifted from the shoreline of the Columbia River.

Last weekend, about 50 volunteers pitched in for the event that resulted in nearly 53,000 pounds of waste, far more than the approximate 17,500 lifted in 2009’s most successful turnout.

“It was just one of those moments that it caught the public’s attention but the novelty is not there anymore,” said Jos Sharp of the Skills Centre, referring to the 120 residents who scoured the river two years ago.

“But the amount of garbage picked up has grown exponentially every year because the army engineers have gotten involved and really picked up some amazing waste off the eastern shore.”

In addition to the eight members from the 44 Engineer Squadron and 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, Dave Gourlay of Civil-Tech Services Ltd. decided to add his excavator to the fleet. The addition of the extra muscle really brought some results, a whopping 51,400 pounds.

“The cool thing about that area is it’s sort of a permanent restoration – you don’t expect anything like that industrial waste going down the bank ever again,” said Sharp.

In contrast, the removal of “fresh” garbage along Casino Road is a true sign that residents continue to dump along the river, rather than dropping their garbage off at the McKelvey Creek Regional Landfill.

“We hope to focus on public awareness along that stretch, we’re talking about possible signage just to remind people that others have gone there and cleaned it up – for goodness sake, don’t put anything more down there,” added Sharp.

“It could be economic since they have to pay to take it to the dump so it could be saving a bit of money but it’s not the thing to do.”

New this year was Teck’s hands-on involvement from two of its operators on one-ton trucks. Volunteers cleared the waste from the Casino Road and hauled up approximately 250 pounds to the trucks.

The mining giant also doubled its financial contribution – $2,000 – which goes toward putting the event on and feeding the volunteers as well as providing prizes at an after party held at Gyro Park.

Volunteers also concentrated efforts under the Victoria Street Bridge to Gyro Park, the Rock Island area and below the boulevard on the west side of the river.

Beyond clothing, a Clive’s table and glass, the most unusual find was an animal’s skull that has yet to be identified. Sharp plans on sending some pictures of the strange piece to the department of zoology at the University of British Columbia in hopes of finding an answer.

Though he’s stepping down from coordinator, Sharp will focus on getting more partners involved next year and really challenging organizations and businesses to make the commitment as a team.

“It’s a combination of keeping public awareness up so it prevents more pollution and also just steadily reclaiming areas that need quite a bit of work still,” he said.