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Annual River Cleanup Draws Record Turnout

The seventh annual Great Willamette Clean Up Saturday, Oct. 3, saw a record turnout of 400 volunteers in Lane County to haul truckloads of trash, tires and abandoned household and camping items from the river shallows, riparian areas and islands. Another 400 volunteers were involved along the Willamette in other counties all the way to Scappoose Bay north of Portland. Kayaks, canoes and drift boats provided access to areas not accessible by foot. 

The event, organized by Willamette Riverkeeper, is timed to take advantage of low water and keep tons of toxic trash from washing into the river. The Willamette provides not only valuable habitat for fish and other wildlife but also drinking water for communities downstream.

Joining the river enthusiasts locally this year for the first time were members of the OURS homeless camp in Eugene. OURS stands for Our Universal Right to Serenity, Safety & Sleep, and the group tries to not only keep its own camp tidy and sanitary, but is now encouraging other campers to move off the riverbanks, says Michelle Emmons of Willamette Riverkeeper.

One of the worst sites in the Eugene area was a riverside homeless camp on Union Pacific Railroad land near Franklin Boulevard and Walnut Station. EWEB Commissioner John Brown says this site was “just as bad this year” as it was last year when he and others organized a major cleanup involving a Lane County Sheriff’s Office work crew. Keeping this site clean over the years has been a challenge, Brown says, because it’s on private railroad property and out of sight. 

Emmons says another bad site had four stacks of old roofing shingles, along with construction debris, all below the high-water line. “Needles were found throughout the urban waterfront, with larger stashes collected off the south banks near Skinner’s Park and the Franklin Boulevard bike path entry,” she says. “Mattresses, cardboard, office chairs, recliners, paint cans, propane bottles, gas cans, broken lawn mowers and all manner of bicycle parts were among some of the trash removed.”

More than 285 large bags were filled, along with 59 yards of trash. Waste Free Oregon sorted through the trash pulling out reusable items and recyclables, reducing the landfill burden by about 50 percent. 

Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) based in Eugene turned out a crew this year, and the volunteers pulled many bags of trash out of the riverbanks, along with a TV set and a shopping cart.

The well-publicized event also inspired many individuals to clean up parks, boat landings and other public and private lands in communities along the river. 

The mayors of Eugene, Springfield and Oakridge all spoke at the volunteer thank-you party held after the event and hip hop artist Lafa Taylor performed for the crowd. Numerous local government agencies, nonprofits, clubs and local businesses participated this year.