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Volunteers find river of trash

Spokane River Cleanup draws 750

Santa, someone found your key.

Volunteer Russ Posten was scouring the banks of Latah Creek near High Bridge Park Saturday as part of the annual Spokane River Cleanup when he found it.

“We found a broken key to Santa’s sleigh,” he said. “It’s got a reindeer on it, so we can only assume.”

The stray key wasn’t the only unusual thing found during the clean up, which saw about 750 people turn out to clean the banks of the Spokane River in Browne’s Addition, near High Bridge Park and in the University District near downtown Spokane. A pair of high topped sneakers in excellent shape. A rusty tea kettle. Furniture. And lots and lots of trash, bottles and cans.

Ray Williams made the trip up from the Marshall area with several family members to help out. His niece proved to be the best at finding unusual items. “She found a brand new billfold, three golf balls and a Chevy S-10 grill,” he said.

Event organizers set up a contest for the most unusual items, with the winners taking home prizes.

Marley Eichstaedt brought her 5-year-old son Noah to the event along with other families from the Earth Scouts community group. The younger kids got off to a slow start, but soon warmed to their search. “They wanted to keep going,” she said. “It’s a treasure hunt.”

Noah seemed pleased by his results. “We found some boots and a man suit,” he said.

For the first time this year the Friends of the Falls split their attention into more than one spot on the Spokane River. Over the last seven years the clean up has focused on the areas near High Bridge Park and People’s Park, which are a magnet for illegal dumping. This year they were hoping for 150 volunteers to come to the new location in the University District, but they topped that and ran out of the volunteer kits that included trash bags, a map and gloves. “They had a lot of walk-ins,” said Steve Faust, executive director of the Friends of the Falls. Many were college students.

Before heading out, volunteers had to sign a release form and were given a safety lecture about avoiding poison ivy and any hazardous materials. Used hypodermic needles and used condoms are common in the area of People’s Park. Each volunteer group was led by two team leaders and a cone leader, all trained to handle such materials and the ones responsible for collecting them.

By noon the event was shaping up to be a lot quieter than last year, said the event’s incident response commander Nick Hobart, an Army veteran. Last year there were 54 incidents reported, including a meth lab. “Most of our calls (last year) involved hypodermic needles,” he said.

By noon Saturday there had only been six calls, one involving a discovered knife. Hobart said the Sheriff’s Office would be called to examine the knife in case it might be one involved in a crime.

Last year’s effort collected over eight tons of trash, two tons of which was able to be recycled. Faust is hopeful that the event will be even bigger and better in the future. “A goal for next year might be to expand out to Liberty Lake, but we’ll just have to see,” he said.

The cleanup is also tied to World Rivers Day, celebrated Sunday to promote river stewardship all over the world. Of all the events planned for this weekend, the Spokane River Cleanup may be the largest, according to World Rivers Conference.

A sampling of other events worldwide include an attack on evasive weeds and “beasties” on the Wandle River in England; a cleanup of the Jacques-Cartier, Ottawa, Yellowknife and other rivers scattered across Canada; various events on the continents of Australia and Africa; and a fundraiser in Bellingham, called “Salmon Worship: Is It Wrong?”



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