Cleaning up a hazardous campsite

This old tent near the river became a trash receptacle
This old tent near the river became a trash receptacle

To some river-lovers it’s the scariest place in Eugene: a longtime homeless camp along the Willamette River strewn with soggy mattresses and moldy rugs, used needles, bike parts, food packaging, wet books, even an old TV set. Trash and worse from campers have been collecting for years between the railroad tracks and the river, and a cleanup project is about to begin now that the camp has been abandoned (see photos on our website).

The site is behind the new student housing project being built on Garden Avenue near Walnut Station. The heavily wooded land belongs to Union Pacific Railroad, and is not directly within the jurisdiction of the city, county or university.

Willamette Riverkeeper is coordinating the cleanup effort with the cooperation of Union Pacific, Lane County, the Oregon Department of State Lands and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Jet boats from ODFW will ferry bags of debris to Alton Baker boat ramp where UO facilities crews will fill Dumpsters provided by Sanipac. EWEB Commissioner John Brown says he will be writing personal checks to pay for a Lane County Sheriff’s Work Crew Friday and other outright expenses costing thousands of dollars. Brown considered hiring a helicopter to ease the workload, but after revisiting the area this week, he says the area has too many trees in the way.

Michelle Emmons of Willamette Riverkeeper headed up the successful Great Willamette Clean Up Oct. 4 that removed tons of trash from some 200 miles of the Willamette and its tributaries, but this particular area by campus, still occupied at the time, was much more than the volunteers could handle. Emmons is coordinating this cleanup as well.

“This camp is out of sight and out of mind,” Brown says. “The bottom line is: Why bitch about it? Do something about it — and at the end of the day there will hopefully be other community members who will step up.”

Brown is critical of city government and its reluctance to approve more authorized camping areas. He says investing in legal campsites and providing trash service and toilets is more humane and would also reduce the kind of expensive riparian damage that he sees along the river in several areas in Eugene. “This doesn’t have to happen,” he says.

Emmons says the site is too hazardous for volunteers to just show up and help with the cleanup. Used hypodermic needles are everywhere, the ground is muddy and slippery and the bushes have been used as toilets for years. But Willamette Riverkeeper does train volunteers for river projects, and money and in-kind donations are always welcome. See or call Emmons at 913-4318.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Dec. 19 to reflect new information provided in a press release from Willamette Rivekeeper.