Portland Timbers fans try to SOLVE the trash problem
With all eyes on downtown Portland Saturday for the 2021 MLS Cup Final, which the Portland Timbers are contesting and hosting at Providence Park, the Timbers and trash cleanup nonprofit SOLVE Oregon pulled together a joint event around the stadium Wednesday morning, Dec. 8. Approximately 40 people showed up to pick up litter around the area, which will host several thousand New York City fans as well as guests of Major League Soccer, many of whom may only know Portland from its media image as a riot-torn, boarded-up campground.
The club and SOLVE put the word out on Reddit/r/Portland and Reddit/r/timbers and 48 hours later, 38 Timbers fans and other volunteers showed up across from the stadium's east marquee. SOLVE started statewide in 1969 as Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism. Portland-area trash pickups have become popular in the last two years as citizens have become ashamed of their city's messy sidewalks. SOLVE now even have a sub-brand, Detrash Portland, and Metro offers reimbursement grants.
As usual at SOLVE events, volunteers received gloves, high-visibility vests, "picker" sticks and strong trash bags. They were asked not to pick up needles and bio waste and to maintain "a respectful distance from anyone living outside or camping outside, because we don't want to take anyone's possessions and we don't want to make anyone feel threatened," according to Larissa Gordon, SOLVE's Outreach and Communications Coordinator. They fanned out in ones and twos. In two hours, they collected 200 pounds of trash, according to Gordon.
She said legendary former Timbers defender Nat Borchers came too, to collect litter. Borchers was an MLS Cup winner in 2009 with Real Salt Lake and with the Timbers in 2015. He now has a real estate company in Salem but is also a Timbers broadcaster and community ambassador. Gordon said it was Borchers' sixth time turning out for SOLVE. "He takes it very seriously, he collects a lot of garbage every single time he comes out with us," said Gordon.
In the morning sunshine, Rebecca Pitra and John Mayfield were working their way west along Southwest Morrison Street.
"It's mostly small stuff, but I got a whiskey bottle, that's my biggest item so far," said Timbers fan Mayfield, who still plays soccer on an over-65 team in an Oregon Adult Soccer Association league.
Mayfield occasionally attends Timbers games when a friend offers a ticket. He has been picking up with SOLVE for three years. "I've done I've done every part of the city at one point or another, including downtown, and the rivers and on to the coast." He plans to watch the game on TV with his soccer teammates.
He and Rebecca Pitra had just met at the welcome tent. Pitra, who sells concessions at the Oregon Zoo, used to work at Providence Park. "I haven't been able to make any games this season because of work conflicts," Pitra said. In any case she finds even regular game tickets too expensive. "Whenever I was working here, I would always see broken pieces of plastic and glass and pick them up," she said. "You'd see a lot of mess."
Photographer Rich Kobell has shot the Timbers and Thorns many times, as well as the rest of Oregon's sporting elite, for American Press Wire. On Wednesday, he was picking up cigarette butts and last Saturday's soggy confetti (torn-up team sheets) under the stadium's east marquee.
"I do quite a bit of (pick-up) throughout the year with my wife, Pat Bowman, because this is our home," said Kobell. "And if we don't keep it clean, then nobody will. So that's my part is helping clean the house."
He's concerned about Portland's optics on the national stage.
"I think some of the difficulty Portland has encountered over the last 24 months (includes) the visual aspects, and what is seen by individuals, based in part on what is shown by the media." Kobell thinks the visitors will get a feel for the real Portland.
"Portland is about so much more than graffiti and boarded-up windows and tents along the sidewalk. Sadly, those are very, very visible parts of our city. But we're so much more than that. And those of us who are out here, cleaning up, try to help burnish that a little bit."
He had no map or plan. "I'm going to see where the tides carry me. There's gonna be stuff to pick up and clean up anywhere I go."
It's not just downtown that suffers from rogue garbage. Kobell and his wife have seen it all. Pat was elsewhere that morning, walking dogs for the Humane Society. Some of their typical SOLVE cleanups are in the woods on Skyline Boulevard. He has pulled out an ATM, vehicles, dead cattle, mattresses and bags of household trash from that Sylvan paradise.
"I've found all sorts of machinery and it's a bit of an odd scavenger hunt. People take their refuse and toss it over the side of the bank on Cornell or Skyline or Springville, or any one of those roads: tires, wheels, all sorts of things."
Some is tossed at night, while other stuff, Kobell thinks, accidentally bounces out of truck beds. "I don't attribute it all to people who are ignorantly littering. But yeah, it all needs to be cleaned up."
Peter Brewer, a Program Coordinator with SOLVE, was out where no tourist will ever notice, picking up syringes in the bushes above the I-405 underpass at Salmon Street. He said sometimes SOLVES gets 250 people downtown on a weekend.
"I would say this is above average, it's excellent. It's not the amount of people, it's not the amount of trash, it's about doing the job well. And by creating a level of enthusiasm so that people enjoy themselves, feel a sense of accomplishment when they pick up trash and feel motivated to go and keep on and keep on doing good."
He leaned over the fence for a syringe, then thought better of it as it was out of reach. A plastic bottle with yellow liquid was attached to the chain link. "We don't touch that," he said.
"We had a good amount of Timbers fans as well as people that found out about the event who were just SOLVE volunteers. This event was put on a little bit quicker than other events, thanks to the Timbers promoting it and the Timbers fans coming out and supporting the team."
NYCFC has been allotted 2,500 tickets and the league, which lost $1 billion during the 2020 COVID-19 season, is inviting thousands of other guests to its showcase event. Some of them will be looking around downtown this weekend.
Brewer said SOLVE cleans up around big events all the time and he wasn't curious about the opinion of visiting fans' opinions of Portland's tidiness. "I don't think the national spotlight really influenced this event any more than any other event," said Brewer.
His next big day is Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 18, 2022. "We're doing a large day of giving, where we're expecting 250 volunteers to come out across multiple locations. We do small events that are 10 people for 1,000 pounds of trash or we have 40 people spreading across the neighborhood filling up one bag each. Either way, it's about just doing a little bit one time. It all adds up."
SOLVE now has 17 full-time employees statewide, and a lot more fans of cleanliness.
"We have quite a few Portland Timbers fans on staff, so I think us doing a cleanup here was kind of a no-brainer," Gordon said. "We have a check in location here every month as part of downtown Portland, so it was really easy."
The stadium staff keeps the area clean, so volunteers were asked to fan out, especially into Goose Hollow and the I-405 area. "Along the sidewalks there, we've noticed litter tends to accumulate," Gordon said.
The Timbers front office gave them no instructions.
"We've been here every single month since September of 2020 — we know which areas can accumulate litter," said Gordon. "We just send our volunteers out."
Of Reddit/Portland, she said, "People there really do seem to want to get involved and take direct action. And picking up litter is a pretty direct action, it creates a direct impact."
Gordon has family members who are really into the Timbers and often attends games. She tried to get a ticket for this Saturday's MLS cup final but was unsuccessful.
"Portland is totally a soccer city, We're such a soccer city. I really enjoy that. I mean, it's a sport that the rest of the world is watching, so it's great to be a little bit more global."
Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism
What does the name SOLVE stand for? SOLV Used to be an acronym for Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism. The "E" has been added to address a call to action: SOLVE as an action verb, deploying tens of thousands of volunteers to improve the environment and build a legacy of stewardship.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.
Reporter, The Portland Tribune
Follow us on