Armed with a white plastic garbage bag, Gresham resident Akoda Tilmant scans the Sandy River's east bank for litter and man-made debris on an early fall-like Saturday morning.
If she wished she were doing something less labor intensive with her time off, you couldn't tell by her focus on the task at hand or the genial way she explained her mission during the fifth annual Sandy River Cleanup event.
"You get to give back to the community and also do something fun," said Tilmant, clubs and organizations coordinator at Mt. Hood Community College. "It supplies people an opportunity to clean up the river ... it's an easily obtainable (volunteer task) to do."
Tilmant was one of about 45 volunteers who signed up for the cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 14 — an annual event sponsored by the Sandy River Watershed Council. Participants first gathered for a briefing at Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area in Troutdale, then carpooled upriver to Dabney Park. Launching an assortment of inflatable rafts, kayaks and paddle boards, volunteers stopped at various spots along the river to gather litter and debris ranging from cigarette butts and candy wrappers to tires and rusty highway signs.
With relatively low water flow on the Sandy this time of year, the float takes about four hours to get back to Lewis and Clark Park.
"I'm excited. I think it will be a lot of fun," said first-time participant Kimberly Young, a Southeast Portland resident, at Lewis and Clark Park. "It's an opportunity to come out and meet people and clean up the river."
Marked "Stash the Trash" on the side, the brightly colored mesh bags participants use to contain their haul were introduced on the Clackamas River a few years ago. Now they are strategically placed in traditionally high-litter areas for citizens to fill up.
"They reduced what they picked up at cleanup events by at least two tons," said Sarah Ennis, community stewardship coordinator with the Sandy River Watershed Council. "It saves (park rangers and volunteers) work and they can do pickups all in one sweep."
Noting that much of the detritus that lands along the Sandy's banks comes from recreational users like swimmers and summer floaters, as well as commercial-industrial sources upstream, Ennis finds the cleanup event a hands-on way to improve the watershed and increase overall ecological awareness.
"At a grass-roots level, this is what's available to us, and also is an answer to overwhelming apathy, the ability to connect people to passion and hope that they can connect with their community and make an improvement," she said.
Troutdale resident Cindy Kolomechuk, a watershed council member who's taken part at in the Sandy River cleanups a couple of times before, finds the event an ideal way to accomplish something positive while getting to know new people.
"It's an opportunity to help clean (the river) up, and it's great to hang out with other community members who are like-minded," she said. "You can get twice as much (picked up) and enjoy doing it."
Kolomechuk's discoveries along the Sandy's banks included a rusty highway sign pole, cluttered camps and somewhat unusual wildlife encounters.
"There were tiny little frogs inundated in the mud," she said with a broad smile. "Every time we stepped they were jumping around everywhere, like a bunch of jumping beans."
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