Gathering to clean the Eagle |

Gathering to clean the Eagle

Matt Zalaznick

And the big day – this year’s scientifically enhanced installment of the annual Eagle River Cleanup – is Sunday, says Doug Ross, a founder of the seven-year-old eco-friendly event.

“We’re always amazed at the variety of the things we find in the river,” Ross says. “We’ve found refrigerators; we’ve found oil; we’ve found gasoline and just about every other kind of vehicle lubricant in the water. I also remember leisure suits and full bottles of champagne.”

Nearly 300 volunteers –including cleanup veterans and first-timers – are already on crews that will head out to stretches of the river from Vail to Gypsum Sunday afternoon. An environmental irony about this year’s cleanup is that this summer’s record drought will probably allow cleaners to find more junk, Ross says.

“We’re in one of most severe droughts most of us will probably see in our lifetimes,” Ross says. “We’ll see a lot more of the river bottom and we’ll be able to find a lot more of the old stuff again.”

The first few cleanups were spent hauling out trash that had been there for decades, but the low water this year may reveal more of the old junk, Ross says.

“The good news is that we’ve seen a decrease in the amount of trash, but that doesn’t mean we can stop,” Ross says. “We still get tens of thousands of pounds of trash. We’ve gotten most of the old stuff that’s been there for decades, now it’s a lot of maintenance.”

The cleanup, sponsored by Vail Resort, will for the first time extend beyond the Eagle River and Black Gore Creek to the river’s other tributaries.

The volunteers and team leaders are a mix of people who use the river for recreation and folks who just want to keep it clean.

“I’m a kayaker, a fisherman, and I live on the river,” says Casey Parliament, a West Vail residents who is leading a cleanup crew. “Where I live, the river’s pretty decent. Where I recreate, there’s a lot of garbage.”

Sally Beckley, a veteran volunteer who works for Vail Mountain Dining, says the river is one of few places residents can still have a significant impact.

“I’ve lived here 22 years and I’ve seen a lot of change,” Beckley says. “A lot of the change I don’t feel like I can do anything about – but you can do something about the river.”

Team leader Erica Yoshimoto, a veteran of the Interstate 70 cleanup, says cleaning the river creates a sense of community in a valley where a lot of people don’t stay very long.

“Because it’s so transient, it’s hard for people to really feel that this is a community,” Yoshimoto says. “You do something like this and, by default, people care about the environment when they see how much trash there is.”

This year’s cleanup – also for the first time –will have a scientific bent. One or two members of each team will be given a camera and global-positioning equipment to photograph and measure bank erosion, depth of pools and other variables of the river habitat.

The data collected will serve as a basis of comparison for scientists to study the river in the coming years.

“We want to achieve a baseline idea of what currently exists,” says Daiva Katieb, a hydrologist volunteering with the cleanup. “This will help direct management activities of fish and fish habitat.”

Lisa Chaple, one of this year’s organizers, says she doesn’t think fisherman and kayakers are the people who are spoiling the river.

“I think it’s uneducated people who don’t care about their environment,” Chaple says. “I think the fisherman and kayakers are more responsible.”

Backing that up, she says volunteers never find kayak paddles or fishing rods – stuff that would be a lot more useful than most of the junk that’s picked up.

Chaple predicts more than 300 volunteers will hit the river this year.

“It’s a great community service and it helps beautify our environment,” she says.

The cleanup is also aimed at the future, Ross says.

“We encourage families to come so that the kids know to respect our local environment – it’s the only one we have and we should protect it,” Ross says. “We all know it can go away quickly when we live in such a beautiful place.”

The annual Eagle River Cleanup is Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. More volunteers are needed, particularly for stretches of the river in Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum.

To volunteer call Lisa Chaple at 845-5875.

The cleanup is followed by a free barbecue at the Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

Support Local Journalism