River cleanup volunteers make a ton of difference

Barry Kaye
Alden Silber and Dunsmuir City Council member Dave Keisler were two of more than 100 volunteers who collected 2,287 pounds of trash along the Upper Sacramento River Saturday.

It is not often a group of volunteers can make a ton of difference but such was the case Saturday during the River Exchange’s annual fall cleanup.

On a blustery day filled with rainbows and fall colors, 2,287 pounds of garbage – more than one ton – were pulled from the banks of the Upper Sacramento River. The debris ranged from discarded tires and intravenous needles to barbed wire and a burnt propane tank.

The record haul and larger-than-expected turnout thrilled River Exchange officials, especially new executive director Cassie Hansen.

“We counted over 100 volunteers,” she said. “That is the biggest event yet.”

Hansen, who was born and raised in Mt. Shasta and has a Ph.D. in physical geography, said she wants to take what the River Exchange has done in the past and elevate it to modern standards. One goal is to “teach about watershed stewardship through GIS education.”

“The idea is taking what we were doing for GIS Day – just one day a year – and incorporating that into the whole aspect of the watershed,” she said while bouncing up and down with seven-week-old daughter, Solveig, who was attending her first river cleanup and enjoying the ride while tucked close to Mom and safe from the elements.

Founded with settlement funds in 1996 following the Cantara Loop railroad spill, the River Exchange is dependent on grants and private donations. Much like the river itself, fundraising comes with its own ebbs and flows.

At first there was money from the spill. When that ran out the nonprofit languished. Positions became volunteer.

“It was spiraling down. The question was whether to let it die or revitalize it,” said David Clarno, owner of the Dunsmuir Brewery Works and former Chamber of Commerce President.

“Someone approached me about being on the board,” he said. “I wanted to revitalize it because it was an important part of the community and did a lot with education in the schools.”

On the day of the cleanup families, fishermen and locals all pitched in at more than 50 predesignated sites along the river, stretching from Sims Rd. to the south and Box Canyon and Lake Siskiyou to the north. Hansen said social media was critical in getting the word out. There was also a push to involve more students.

Local businesses participated by donating items for a silent auction, work gloves for volunteers and food for lunch. Gold rocks scattered at cleanup sites came with special prizes. One of the top prizes was from the Ted Fay Fly Shop.

“We love the town,” explained Jeannie Rogers, owner of the Pizza Factory, where employees were busy cranking out 17 extra-large pizzas to feed everyone at a free lunch in the City Park. “We do whatever we can,” she said.

At the Dunsmuir service yard next to the train tracks the trash is brought in and then weighed and sorted. A flat screen TV sits next to an abandoned baby seat. A brand new and very red Coca Cola bicycle leans against a tree.

Waiting their turn to unload are brothers Jenner and Parker Dangrs. They spent about two hours collecting trash near Hedge Creek and central Dunsmuir.

“We were just working on our house (on Sacramento Ave.) and thought we would come down and help out,” Parker said. Both brothers are environmental science majors.

For long time River Exchange board member Phil Detrich, the annual cleanup is still meaningful after 25 years. The former wildlife biologist credits Hansen with revitalizing the organization, something that is near and dear to his heart.

Detrich is an avid angler along with other board members Chris Stromsness and Scott Embry. Bringing in future generations to continue the process of river stewardship is critical, Detrich said.

“I have really enjoyed seeing the kids that get connected to the river,” he said. “That means a lot to me.”