On Saturday, Sept. 15, about 2,500 volunteers are expected to take part in the American River Parkway Foundation’s annual Great American River Clean Up.
According to Stacy Springer, volunteer manager for the American River Parkway Foundation, which is based in Carmichael, these volunteers will spend three hours that morning cleaning up 20 site locations along the American River of trash and other debris. “And that does not even include the huge kayak and dive teams that go out and address the shoreline and deeper water channels,” she said.
Springer said it’s easy to volunteer for the Great American River Clean Up – volunteers just need to register on the Foundation’s website, www.arpf.org, and then show up on the day of the clean up wearing closed-toe shoes and long pants, plus sunblock and hat if the day is sunny and warm.
A site captain, such as Heidi Steger, a Sacramento resident who has been a site captain for the Great American River Clean Up for the past four years, mans each clean up location. Steger oversees the Howe Avenue river access location, which she said covers from Sacramento State upstream to the Watt Avenue location.
On the day of the clean up, Steger is in charge of putting up signs, handing out gloves to those who don’t have their own, distributing trash bags, waters and snacks, and giving some basic safety instructions to about 100 volunteers at her location.
She said there are both paved and unpaved portions of the Parkway, so volunteers can feel comfortable depending on their abilities. “If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t feel bad about walking through high grass or even under trees and through some brambles, that’s fine, but if you’re the kind that wants to stick to the path, that’s fine, too,” she said.
When out on the Parkway, Steger said volunteers are asked to pick up everything from cigarette butts to car tires. “There’s cans, bottles, paper trash, paper bags, plastic containers – it’s a mix,” she said.
There’s an emphasis on picking up cigarette butts at the clean up site location of Michael Rebensdorf, who has been a site captain for almost 10 years. At his site at Sailor Bar – just below Nimbus Dam, across the river from the fish hatchery – Rebensdorf holds a contest for picking up the most cigarette butts. “People walk by the little trash – they want to get the big trash to fill their bag up,” he said.
Having an Impact
Rebensdorf said through his years as a site captain at Sailor Bar, he has seen the amount of trash picked up each year decline significantly. “It’s probably 25 percent now from when I first started,” he said.
He said this is because people are more conscious of not throwing things on the ground and littering. “At Sailor Bar, there’s an entry point for fisherman to the river and I think they’ve become a lot more aware,” he said. “It’s more conscious in people’s minds that if you come out here and throw your things on the ground, you’re not going to be able to come out and fish anymore.”
Steger said the clean up also helps community members get a feel for what the riverbanks are like. “They figure out if you want to be able to enjoy this wonderful gift of the American River, you’ve got to take care of it a little bit, “she said.
And Stringer said volunteers leave with an awareness that everyone is responsible for their backyard regardless of where the trash comes from. “As good citizens and good Samaritans, we want to make sure that if we have to pick up somebody else’s trash because it’s laying there, then that’s what we do – it’s taking on a higher level of responsibility,” she said.
In addition to the Great American River Clean Up, the American River Parkway Foundation has volunteers that help keep the Parkway clean all year long through various programs. One of these programs is the Volunteer Mile Steward program, where individuals and groups adopt a mile of the Parkway and commit to 20 hours of service per quarter to help keep it clean, according to Springer.
“Every mile is a little different – 99 percent of it is trash removal, but we have graffiti removal issues at times,” Springer said. “That’s a very popular program and we have very dedicated volunteers.”
Two of those volunteers are residents Theresa and Steve Graham. About seven years ago they adopted Mile 4, which starts behind the REI in the Arden area and runs down to Cal Expo. Steve said he and Theresa decided to adopt that particular mile because as an avid bicyclist he was using it all the time and realized he should give back.
Steve said he and Theresa go out two hours about twice a month to pick up trash on their mile and report any graffiti or encampments they encounter. “We pick up every little bit because I don’t want an animal stepping in this or eating this, so even if it’s a flip-top from a can it all comes up because we’ve got to keep this clean for the animals as they are there all the time,” he said.
Theresa enjoys their work on the mile as she enjoys being outside and exploring the nature in the area, as well as the flexibility the program offers. “You can do it at what time-frame works for you – you can make it work into your schedule, which really works for us,” she said.
And she also likes the good internal feeling volunteering gives her. “You feel like you’re contributing to the good of the society,” she explained. “I think everybody should do something for the good of their community – it just gives you pride in it.”
For more information on the Great American River clean up or volunteering with the American River Parkway Foundation, visit www.arpf.org.