EAGLE COUNTY — On Sept. 14, everyone from students to resort employees will gather along Eagle County’s riverbanks for what has become an annual fall tradition in the area — the Eagle River Cleanup.
Organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council and in partnership with Vail Resorts Echo, about 500 volunteers are expected to help collect trash from about 60 miles of bank along the Eagle River, Gore Creek and Colorado River. It’s the end-of-season counterpart to the annual highway cleanup at the beginning of summer, and organizers said the event is still in need of volunteers.
The volunteers are organized into teams, either of individuals or from a particular organization or business, and are assigned a stretch of river. The event goes from 9 a.m. to noon and will be followed by a barbecue at the Broken Arrow at Arrowhead. The after party, hosted by the Arrowhead Alpine Club, will feature music from Minturn’s Turntable Revue, beer from Crazy Mountain Brewing and a raffle for the entire family.
This will be the event’s 19th anniversary — the very first river cleanup was first held in 1994, organized by the first Trout Unlimited chapter before the Watershed Council was established. The inaugural event had a total of 24 volunteers, many of whom were Vail Resorts ski patrollers with radios and trucks. The event ended with a silent auction that included a season ski pass and raised a total of $400.
The cleanup has grown quite a bit since then, but it is no less important to river health.
Besides making the county’s banks remain pristine and picturesque, the event also serves to clean a section of water that affects much of Colorado and other states down the line, said Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.
“If you think about it, we’re really at the top of the river. The Eagle River starts here and dumps into the Colorado,” she said. “All those communities down the line are impacted by what goes into our rivers. The impacts are huge in that sense because we take it from the top of the food chain, so to say.”
This year, the event will be part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, a project through the month of September in which cleanup events of oceans and waterways from around the world record their findings. The Ocean Conservancy will then compile the information to provide a global snapshot of the marine debris littering coasts and waterways around the world and “hopefully aid policy makers in the attempt to clean up these precious resources,” according to the organization.
At Eagle County’s cleanup, each volunteer group will report what kind of trash and debris they’ve collected throughout the day.
“We are thrilled to add our manpower and statistics to this very worthy project,” said Kate Burchenal, education and outreach coordinator at the Watershed Council. “And we are particularly interested to see the data on what kind of trash is in our waterways.”
Each year, along with the obligatory food wrappers, cigarette butts and plastic bags found along the river, volunteers can also expect to pick up some unusual items, Loff said.
Last year, a group from the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy won the most-unusual-item award (in the form of a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish) for finding a 15-year-old Timex watch that was still ticking and parts of a raft.
A group of about 40 students will return this year, both as part of their studies and in honor of student Zeke Pierce, who died in a mountain-biking accident this summer, said VSSA upper school social studies teacher and athletic director Bindu Pomeroy.
“They’re dedicating the river cleanup to Zeke Pierce Memorial Day. On that day, the kids are doing community service and building an outdoor classroom. It means a lot to them,” Pomeroy said.
In addition, upperclassmen have been learning about the history of mining in the area, efforts to clean up the rivers and how the Colorado River provides water to many of the Southwestern states. The river cleanup is a way to connect the studies to tangible and relevant issues in the area.
“The students are really proud to clean up and help out and improve the health of the Colorado River,” Pomeroy said.