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Spokane River Cleanup yields heaps of trash

Hundreds of volunteers turn out for annual litter sweep

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 when about 750 people turned 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-top 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. 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 cleanup 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, who are trained to handle such materials and were 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 were 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 tied to World Rivers Day, celebrated Sunday to promote river stewardship all over the world. The Spokane River Cleanup may be the largest of these efforts, according to World Rivers Conference.

A sampling of other events worldwide includes an attack on invasive weeds and “beasties” on the Wandle River in England; a cleanup of the Jacques-Cartier, Ottawa, Yellowknife and other rivers in Canada; and a fundraiser, “Salmon Worship: Is It Wrong?,” in Bellingham.