While the sun dodged dark rain clouds Saturday, the River Exchange held its 18th annual Great River Clean-up, a volunteer effort to haul trash out of the Upper Sacramento River and off its banks.

Participants cleaned-up along the waterway for a couple of hours, then met at the Dunsmuir Depot for lunch, live music and prizes. Despite the forecast, no significant rain fell in town during the event, from the early morning hours of registration to early afternoon finish.

The registration booth stood in the community center parking lot, where participants determined what part of the river they would clean.

Volunteers Kathay Edmondson and Myrna Dupzyk dispatched clean-up crews to any of about 30 mapped clean-up sites, following the Sacramento from  Dunsmuir City Park south to railroad siding accesses 5, 10, 20 miles away.

“We ask if they have a favorite place along the river,” said Dupzyk, who has volunteered for the event every year since 1994, “If not, we assign a spot.”

Also from this area, aspiring cleaner-uppers could pick up protective gloves and bright orange trash bags and information on the rewards.

Dupzyk explained that prizes would be awarded to participants who brought in unique examples of refuse judged winner in each of four categories – the most reusable, the most unusual, the funniest, the biggest ball of fishing line.

She also said that prizes would be given out to those who found any of six golden rocks bearing the names of the River Exchange’s top sponsors.

At one of the closest clean-up sites to the registration booth, near the end of the city park amphitheater trail, three Dunsmuir High School students dug into a pile of trash they discovered a few feet upslope.

Freshman biology classmates Chris Headley and Eric Johnson said that they would receive extra credit for the work, while environmental science pupil Miya Wheeler revealed that for her it was mandatory. “It was this or write a three-page essay,” she said.

The three pulled out of the river bank, one after another, steel cans that had been buried long enough to rust down to crumbling cylinders the color of dirt.
Some could be identified as beer cans, and many bore the distinctive triangular opening left by what was known in the pre-pop-top era as a “church key.” None of the three youngsters could remember seeing a steel beer can before.

The two boys lugged a full bag of rusty metal, trading off as each tired, back up the steep hill to the registration booth.

An hour later and two miles south, Dunsmuir High School science teacher Pamela Price dumped the contents of a bright orange bag on the asphalt.

“This is trash people brought out of the river,” Price said. “We’re sorting through it, getting recycling out of it.”

Four students of her environmental science class assisted her. Two, Nick Bogdan and Ryan Kerttula, stood alongside bags that had not yet been sorted. The other two, Nekka Bigger and Colton Sordahl, bent with the teacher to pick through the pile of dumped trash for steel, aluminum, glass and plastic, which they dropped into designated bags. Anything left after the sort they tossed into a large dumpster behind them.

Across the tracks, River Exchange staff and board members bustled about, finishing setting up lunch, entertainment and the prize table as participants began filling chairs both inside and outside the big room at the depot.

Along an outside wall, sheets of paper laid on the ground, identifying places contestants could leave the best examples of their finds for each of the four contests. Soon, items of reusable, unusual and funny refuse began to accumulate, as well as a tangles of fishing line.

About noon, Jeannie Rogers from Gary’s Pizza arrived with a delivery of 14 pizzas. River Exchange administrative director Robin Singler said that Gary’s provided lunch at a significant discount, citing the pizza parlor as one of many business that care, those who had pitched in, with in-kind or cash donations, to make the river clear-up a fun, prize-filled event for all.

A crowd of between 50 and 60 clean-up volunteers filled the tables and chairs. Outside, they enjoyed the music by River Exchange board member Mike Dean, who played oldies and ballads on a wired acoustic guitar, accompanied only by his voice and, occasionally, by beat of an electronic drum machine. He sang during lunch, then filled the background with instrumental during the awards ceremony.

Judges selected, as most reusable trash brought in, a fisherman’s landing net in fairly good condition. Prize for the most unusual was given to for a microwave oven with a chunk missing from its door.

The funniest was a common table fork twisted into a most uncommon shape, with its tines bent in all directions. The biggest ball of fishing line came with a bonus, an entangled pair of lost sunglasses.

Environmental science student Wheeler said that she had found a sure prize winner, but had been unable to bring it in for judging.

While continuing to collect rusting cans near the amphitheater, she had moved upslope to a flat spot where she found a bed. While the mattress had turned the expected brown she said, “The blankets and pillows looked like they had just been washed.”

Next came the golden rocks – smooth river stones painted with metallic paint and each bearing the name of one of the businesses that cared the most, credited as contributing $250 or more – accounting firm Aiello, Goodrich & Teuscher, Mt. Shasta Physical Therapy, Semansky Law Firm, Berryvale, Ted Fay Fly Shop, as well as the city of Dunsmuir.

Participants who found where staff had carefully placed the golden rocks along the river each claimed a prize.

Prizes were selected at random by Singler from a display comprised of assorted nature posters, local gift certificates, river “goodies” bags and a few copies of a dragonfly book by local author Judy Hatch. Most had been donated by local sponsors, the list of which numbered nearly 50.

River Exchange executive director Dea Knox began her thanks to all who had contributed with, “In spite of threatening weather, we still cleaned up an amazing amount of the river today.” She then emptied the prize table by drawing a dozen raffle tickets.

Volunteer Will Newman shared an observation he made after taking a crew of Rotary Interact youths, the 8th to 12th grader branch of the Rotary Club, down to Tauhindauli Park to clean up. He said that at first the kids were not very enthusiastic about such service, but they had warmed up to it.

“On the way back, I asked them, ‘Did that seem like a worthwhile way to spend an hour and a half?’” Newman said. “They said, ‘That was an hour and a half? It didn’t seem that long.’”