Dozens of tires removed from Eagle River
24th annual Eagle River Cleanup
Miles of river cleaned up: 68
Number of volunteers: About 300
Number of teams: About 65
Pounds of trash removed: About 4,000
Rivers cleaned: Black Gore Creek, Gore Creek, Eagle River, Colorado River
EAGLE COUNTY — When Ken Neubecker, Tom Gaylord and Doug Ross started the Eagle River Cleanup 24 years ago, a big part of the focus was to remove tires from the water.
“Everybody was pulling tire after tire out of there,” Neubecker said. “We’ve pulled out hundreds over the years.”
An area in Edwards that once housed both a tire shop and a service station has been the primary source of the deposits, Neubecker suspects.
“That place has been erupting tires like the Le Brea Tar Pits,” Neubecker said.
Flash forward to recently, “there weren’t that many tires coming out,” Neubecker said.
However big water years, which scour the river and flush more tires out, and low water years, which reveal them, have proven that there’s much more work to be done.
Speaking from the annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup in 2017, watershed council board member Joe Macy mentioned tires in the river as a example of how much work there is left to be done.
“There’s a place I know of where the river bottom is paved with tires, still,” Macy said. “It would take heavy equipment and a diver to pull them out.”
‘IT’S A SHORT OPPORTUNITY’
On Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Eagle River Watershed Council’s 24th annual Eagle River Cleanup, years of more recent work to remove tires culminated when Greg Keogh, the Raol family and their neighbors, who live near the convergence of Lake Creek and the Eagle River, removed 17 tires and added it to a pile of scores of tires that have been plucked from the river in recent weeks.
Vik Raol said his daughter, 8-year-old Suri Raol, was the driving force behind the effort. She first saw a tire in the river when she was 6.
“I told my dad I want to get all these tires out of here so it can be clean and fresh,” Suri said. “This year, since we didn’t have so much snow, it got low and that’s when we decided to take out these, while it’s a short opportunity when the water’s really low.”
Suri started riding a stand-up paddleboard at age 5. Now an adapt SUP rider, on Saturday Suri was spotting tires from her board and guiding her father, her mother and their neighbor Matt Paulus to the tires. The team then used a hook and pulley mechanism to pull them into a drift boat and stack them on a sandbar in the middle of the river, in a place that is usually covered by water.
“This is the starting point where all the snow comes off of those mountains,” Suri said with a gesture toward the Sawatch Range. “In the summer or the spring it melts down into the water … it goes through the Colorado, into California, and it goes pretty much all along and if it’s dirty here, it will be dirty all throughout.”
While Suri and her team were able to remove roughly 100 tires from the river in recent weeks without the use of heavy equipment, Vik Raol said Joe Macy is right — some heavy equipment will be needed to complete the process.
“In 2016, towards the end of the summer we were in low water conditions once again, and that’s when we saw the tires and Suri said they needed to be removed,” he said. “I contacted the Army Corps of Engineers and the Eagle River Watershed Council. Over the last two years we’ve been trying to figure out how to pull permits to get the tires out of here.”
While the tires are an obvious environmental concern, other pieces of vehicles were also removed — rims from within the tires, pieces of engines and transmissions — with metal starting to deteriorate significantly.
Neubecker said some of the tires were so old they would fit on a Ford Model T.
With heavy engine parts and a mountain of tires and car parts now stationed on a sandbar in the middle of the Eagle River, Vik Raol and Greg Keogh are trying to figure out how to remove all the debris once and for all.
“It’s going to take a big effort,” he said. “We often see the High Altitude Army National Guard training here, Suri had the idea to have a helicopter lift all this stuff out which I think could be a quick way to do it. So I’m going to reach out to HAATS next and see if they want to help out in this effort.”