Volunteers participate in river clean-up

If volunteers for the Sacramento River Clean-Up Day in Colusa pick up less trash every year than they did the year before, then they know they’re doing a good job to combat environmental hazards and pollution.

Since 2012, Premier Mushroom Inc. of Colusa has organized the event, which has resulted in hundreds of pounds of trash, plastic, polystyrene, and other debris and chemicals from making their way into the river.

About 50 volunteers picked up cigarette butts and trash that had washed up or were left by humans along the levees from north of the state recreation area in Colusa to east of the Bridge Street crossing, as well as at the Colusa weir.

“This (was) our sixth annual clean-up,” said Kevin Foley, sustainability coordinator for Premier Mushrooms. “We’re pretty excited to continue keeping this going, and year after year it’s always a steady turnout.”

The event is held in September to correlate with state and international coastal clean-up events. The California Coastal Clean-up Day is the state’s largest volunteer effort.

Since 2012, volunteers at the Colusa event have picked up hundreds of pounds of trash and recyclables along the river, although volumes typically drop from year to year.

“That’s a good thing, because we’ve finally removed a lot of the stuff that has been here for years, and only new stuff that has been dumped within the last year is getting picked up,” Foley said.

However, volunteers at the 2016 Sacramento River Clean-Up did remove hundreds of pounds of debris from an abandoned homeless camp, just prior to last winter’s rain and high water.

Supervisor Denise Carter said the volunteers hauled off five pick-up loads of trash and debris, and a county crew removed two additional dumpsters full of trash from the encampment over two subsequent weekends.

“Last year, we had a big flood, and if we hadn’t done what we did this time last year, it all would have ended up in the water,” said Carter, who volunteers at the clean-up each year.

In fact, most of the volunteers on Saturday, including Supervisor John Loudon and wife Nancy, are regular attendees, however, a few members of Colusa’s Girl Scout Troop 4134 chose to forgo soccer on Saturday so they could participate for the first time.

“We just wanted to have some fun and experience something we haven’t really done before, so we decided to come out here and pick up trash to help the community, and all the little animals that swim in the river,” said Alexis Avera, 12, who is also the 2017 Mini Miss Colusa County. “We just wanted to help the people out, and get the feel of doing something that not everyone wants to do.”

Jasmine Bernard, 12, has known about the event for several years. Although not a Girl Scout, Bernard said she was happy to participate for the first time with her friends from Egling Middle School, even when the group came upon a rattlesnake.

The rattlesnake, coiled on the rocks to take in the mid-morning sun, calmly watched the group for nearly a minute before quietly turning and slithering back into its den.

“I didn’t expect to see a live rattlesnake,” Bernard said. “I knew they were out here, but I’ve never seen one up close.”

Critters living in Sacramento River, or along its banks or in the trees, are why most of the volunteers were out working on Saturday.

Michael Rogner, senior biologist for River Partners, a nonprofit conservation organization committed to preserving and restoring California’s rivers, said it is important to restore and maintain the river’s natural forest for the preservation of wildlife.

“We also do it for people,” Rogner said. “People need places to go out and hunt, hike, and fish, and do what they want to do. Those of us in the crowd that have gray beards had plenty of opportunities as kids to go out and do all these things, so we need to make sure all the kids – when they are our age – have places to go out and recreate.

Rogner said the forests themselves also serves as filters that keep debris left by humans from reaching the water.

River Partners, along with Recology, co-sponsor Colusa’s annual clean-up event.