Different circumstances, same goal: Eagle River Cleanup attracts hundreds of volunteers
The Eagle River Watershed Council’s annual Eagle River Cleanup had a different feel in 2020, and not just from the fresh snow trickling off the peaks into locals streams this year.
The social aspect of the event had to be forgone, said Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff, but hundreds of volunteers were still willing to pick up trash without the promise of a free lunch to follow.
Among them was 19-year-old Lucia Bryan of Gypsum who, in a normal year, would have been readying for class at UC Santa Cruz this weekend. However, with the school currently using remote instruction, Bryan was able to participate in the cleanup.
“I’m glad that despite the stress of COVID, and then there’s a bunch of forest fires, some near my campus, I got to go out and spend some time in nature and help the community, which was awesome,” she said.
Bryan is studying environmental science and was an intern for the Watershed Council while she was a student at Eagle Valley High School. She said she knows a lot of work goes into organizing the Watershed Council’s river cleanup and highway cleanup events. With the spring highway cleanup canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bryan said she was glad to see this year’s river cleanup take place on Saturday.
“My family and I went out and cleaned the portion of the Eagle [River] right across from our house,” she said. “Despite everything happening right now, I think there was a good amount of community involvement.”
Fewer teams, more individuals
Organizer Kate Isaacson said as workforces look different this summer, so did the teams of volunteers.
“We had some Vail Resorts teams and some hotel teams that didn’t have the capacity to do it, so we actually had a high percentage of turnover within our teams, and then there were a lot more individual folks looking to join,” Isaacson said. “I can’t tell if that’s because the highway cleanup got canceled … but there were definitely a lot more people just looking as individuals to join.”
Isaacson said a lot of the typical prep work had been done to ready for the highway cleanup, but with the event scheduled for May, it was canceled in the months leading up to it like most everything else scheduled for May.
“At that point it didn’t seem like people should even leave their house,” she said.
Isaacson said they had stopped short of ordering supplies for the event, so thankfully a lot of money wasn’t spent in readying for the annual highway cleanup.
Nevertheless, Bryan said she felt for organizers who had put a lot of work into getting ready.
“A lot of paperwork, a lot of phone calls, a lot of emailing, organizing the pickup for the trash bags, making sure everybody is safe and has all their supplies, figuring out what design they’re going to do for the T-shirts and figuring out how many they need, there’s a lot of little things that go into it all,” she said.
Lots of use
Eagle County waterways saw an increase in use this summer as Americans got outdoors in record numbers, Loff said.
“At Dotsero landing, for the first time ever, you could consistently see cars parking on Highway 6, because the whole entire lot was full,” Loff said. “And all the boat ramps were like that.”
All that use made it even more important to put on the river cleanup this year. Issacson said in surveying the various cleanup sites on Saturday (volunteers take to more than 68 miles of Eagle County rivers and streams), it looked like the event was a success.
“I saw a lot of bags out there,” she said.
Actual trash removal aside, after 26 years, the cleanup has become a flagship event for the Eagle River Watershed Council, so in pulling it off this summer, organizers were especially pleased.
“It’s nice to not lose that annual continuation,” Loff said.
Learn more about the Eagle River Watershed Council by visiting erwc.org.
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