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Sunday, July 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Silent disco river cleanup strikes chord: Volunteers rewarded with tunes for effort

Gonzaga student Angela Rae listens to music through earphones while picking up garbage during an event called Silent Disco River Cleanup created by the Spokane Riverkeeper and Gonzaga University's Office of Sustainability on Friday, May 10, 2019 near Mission Park in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga student Angela Rae listens to music through earphones while picking up garbage during an event called Silent Disco River Cleanup created by the Spokane Riverkeeper and Gonzaga University's Office of Sustainability on Friday, May 10, 2019 near Mission Park in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga University students and others spent part of the day Friday picking up trash in Mission Park and the surrounding area along the Spokane River, but they listened to live music while they did it.

The Office of Sustainability at Gonzaga partnered with the Spokane Riverkeepers to put on the event, said GU sustainability leadership program coordinator Carrie Herrman.

“We have never done this before,” Herrman said. “It sounded fun.”

The event was billed as the “Silent Disco River Cleanup,” and people were invited to dance along to live music provided by DJs Unifest, Moon Wild and Rosethrow. The music was transmitted to headphones handed out to the volunteers and could be heard for a radius of 500 meters.

Someone associated with the university saw a similar event on a beach in California and brought the idea back, Herrman said.

“Everyone had headphones and vests and pickers,” she said. “It sounded like a wonderful way to engage people.”

The event was held Friday because it was the last day of classes for Gonzaga University students. “We wanted to monopolize on that excitement,” Herrman said.

Jule Schulz heads up the litter pickup team for the Spokane Riverkeeper and brought trash pickers, gloves and bags for the volunteers.

“The Spokane Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting the Spokane River,” he said. “We do that through advocacy, law and science. These kinds of events are really neat because it allows us to spread the message of protecting the river.”

It made sense to do the trash pickup in Mission Park and on the nearby shoreline, he said. “It’s also a spot that catches a lot of stuff in the willows,” he said.

Schulz said he’s seen just about everything while picking up trash along the river, but likes it when he finds historical items. “That’s what interests me,” he said. “I have a wagon wheel in my front yard that they picked out of the river.”

It’s ordinary, everyday trash that is most common, however.

“Most of what we find that worries us is the nonbiodegradable plastics,” he said.

Jessie Cromwell and her 6-year-old daughter, Juniper Cromwell, who likes to be called Lily these days, arrived ready to pick up trash. They were at a trash cleanup event near WSU Spokane earlier in the week and heard about this one. Cromwell said her daughter was extremely excited to hear that another clean up event was planned on Friday, her sixth birthday, and insisted that they come.

“She was bouncing off the walls, so excited,” Cromwell said.

Young Juniper brought some birthday cupcakes to share and wore a red and black dress for the occasion. Her mother said they can’t always join cleanup events but do what they can on their own.

“We’re all living on this planet,” Cromwell said. “We’re all responsible for working together to keep it sustainable.”

Gonzaga students Charissa Boniface and George Veverka grabbed their reusable water bottles and came to pick up trash on their last day as juniors. Boniface said she was happy to come out.

“The silent disco sounded fun,” she said. “Trash is not good for the environment. It’s nice when the community can come together.”

Veverka said the Gonzaga campus is usually pretty clean but she often sees trash when she jogs on the Centennial Trail.

“Going on runs down by the river, there’s always a lot of trash,” she said.

She said when she heard about the event, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I’d never been to a silent disco,” she said. “I’m just here to have a good time and help the Earth.”

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