Refreshing the Eagle River |

Refreshing the Eagle River

Matt Zalaznick

Empty bottles, rusted cans, car parts and plastic bags – when they become litter – are adept at worming their way into the most tangled thickets and burying themselves deep in the mud. A few hundred volunteers, however, took on the steep, muddy banks and chilly water of the Eagle River and several of its tributaries Sunday, hauling a few dump truck loads of trash out of the valley’s natural treasures.

“The people who use the river have to take responsibility for the river,” said volunteer Paul McGinley, who waded the waters in Minturn. “It’s one of those things where everyone can help more than they do.”

Many of the volunteers cleaning stretches from Vail to Gypsum were kayakers and fisherman taking care of their playground. Many others, however, were just out to keep things clean.

“It’s frustrating to see the trash, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said Tom Burnett, a McCoy resident who scoured a stretch of river in Edwards. “It’s nothing compared to the highway cleanup.”

Burnett was referring to the annual Interstate 70 cleanup, which takes place every spring when the snow melts. Hundreds of some of the same volunteers scour the sides and medians of I-70, scooping up several tons of trash.

The type of trash found in the river is a different than what’s found along the interstate, though beer bottles and beer cans are bountiful in both cleanups. Other common pieces of riverbank junk include: paper bags, fast-food wrappers, car parts, tin cans, soda cans, various pieces of steel, golf balls, clothing and coffee cups.

“I found a six-pack full of Corona, full, and a tray to serve it on,” Burnett said. “I also found a Speedo bathing suit.”

Burnett then speculated on the motives of the strange litterbug responsible for this unlikely collection.

“He probably just gotten thrown out of a bar,” he said.

There were some dismal images scarring the mighty Eagle this Sunday, said Jennifer Vandresar of Avon.

“Someone said they saw a fish swimming around in a hat. I think somebody should’ve taken a picture of that,” Vandresar said. “I can’t understand why anybody would litter – not in this beautiful place.”

Along with the sordid, sullied stories, there were some tales of selfless bravery. One volunteer reportedly waded deep into the rapids in Avon to retrieve a pair of shopping carts.

This year’s cleanup also had a scientific theme. A few ambitious, well-trained volunteers carried measuring sticks, tape measures and cameras instead of garbage bags. They began what organizers hope will be several years of collecting data and monitoring the health of the river.

Overall, 15 miles of the Eagle River were cleaned, as well as several of its tributaries, including Gore, Buffehr, Eby, Lake, Squaw and Brush creeks.

Burnett’s friend Colin Murphy of Edwards speculated more generally on the mindsets of the valley’s litterbugs.

“It’s kind of like they aren’t toilet trained,” Murphy said.

“I think people who litter don’t respect themselves,” Burnett added.

Heather Duke of Avon surmised inebriation plays a major role in littering.

“Consider the amount of beer cans or beer bottles out there, I have to assume people are just too drunk too care,” Duke said.

But that could be a boon for the state’s little known aluminum prospectors. Those lonesome, misguided souls could get very rich on the Eagle River, Murphy added.

“We saw some people panning in the river and we said, ‘If you’re looking for aluminum, we can a help you out,'” he said.

Some compared the sensation of battling through the tangled thickets along the Eagle’s banks and trudging through the chilly water to skiing Blue Sky Basin on a powder day. Most, however, thought that was a stupid comparison, saying cleaning up the river isn’t anything like riding a foot-and-a-half of fresh.

“It felt like hopscotch,” Duke said.

But there is still a big pay-off cleaning up the river, Murphy said.

“It’s karma,” Murphy said.

About 45 young members of the Snowboard Outreach Society – along with 15 adult volunteers – cleaned up a stretch of river in Eagle-Vail.

Jessa Giarrantano, 11, of Eagle said she spotted a pair of boxer shorts that were a little too disgusting to pick up.

“That was only thing I didn’t pick up, other than a tractor,” she said.

Giarrantano’s brother Taibi, 12, said this summer’s drought made it easier to find trash in the river.

“It’s a lot cleaner this year, but with the drought you can find of the older trash,” he said.

Though most people said the river wasn’t too trashy, the fact that there was any trash to pick up at all was disappointing, Erica Yoshimoto said.

“When you’re cleaning up after people who’ve been partying and had the nerve just to leave it there, it’s kind of frustrating,” Yoshimoto said.

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