Vail Daily column: Trashin’ our rivers

Amanda Nichols
The Current
Volunteers in 2012 from the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy plan on returning this year to clean up a stretch of the Eagle River near Minturn.
Special to the Daily |

At first the connection isn’t obvious. I throw my soda cup out my car window and it ends up in the river? Yeah, right.

But in a valley as narrow as ours, everything from rain and stormwater, leaking motor oil and to-go containers travel downhill into the Eagle and other tributaries.

Most of our spills and litter are unintentional — like when a garbage bin lid flies open and wind scatters the trash. Still, our trash can make its way into Gore Creek, and then the Eagle River and even further downstream into the Colorado River.

The Eagle River Watershed Council has been raising awareness about this tough and ugly issue with our Community Pride Highway Cleanup each spring and the upcoming Eagle River Cleanup on Sept. 14. This year will be the 19th annual River Cleanup — that’s nearly two decades of community members taking ownership and pride in our local waterways!

Many of the valley’s most frequent water users, like Eagle Valley Trout Unlimited and Alpine Quest Sports, participate in the river cleanup each fall.

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“We think it is a great idea to give back to a resource here in the valley that gives us so much throughout the year,” says Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports.

Trash is a question of sustainability and how to process the tons of waste we are generating. If our trash is not in a landfill, it’s likely impacting waterways all across the globe. In many parts of the world, trash in small tributaries and waterways makes its way to the ocean. Here in Colorado, our trash may not wind up in the ocean but it still has damaging ecological affects.

The Watershed Council has chosen to partner with the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability on this issue and we’re proud to work with the Vail Symposium on the Wells Fargo Unlimited Adventure Event “Saving our Synthetic Seas” on Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Donovan Pavilion. Event speaker and explorer Marcus Eriksen knows firsthand about plastic pollution in the ocean — he’s traveled over 40,000 miles across the sea to observe the endless streams of floating plastic waste.

Local artist Jesse Horton is a friend of Marcus and has done his own travels through the “plastic oceans” of the Pacific and he says “there is always trash.”

“I have done hundreds of exploratory deep dives to parts of the ocean where no one had been before. But there is always trash. Always. Plastic, metal, fishing line, car seats, you name it.”

Horton reminds us that, “Even though our valley has the ‘luxury’ of being at the top of this plastic- garbage chain, it’s important to recognize the part it plays in either helping, or adding to the issue of plastic pollution.”

That’s why this year, the Watershed Council is partnering with the Ocean Conservancy to make the Eagle River Cleanup part of an international effort to beautify — and protect — our waterways. The Ocean Conservancy organizes the International Coastal Cleanup each September for citizens around the world to remove trash from coasts, lakes and rivers. We love the idea of the International Coastal Cleanup not just because of its reach but because of its impact: each individual cleanup collects data on what types and amounts of trash are removed.

Five hundred plastic bags? Ten yards of fishing line? Two popped birthday balloons? The Ocean Conservancy amasses all this data into reports that are used to inform policy makers. This means the Eagle River Cleanup could generate information that helps create solutions to trash clogging waterways. Thanks to the cleanup, the Watershed Council will provide the Ocean Conservancy with trash data on Gore Creek, and the Eagle and the Upper Colorado rivers.

For information about the “Saving our Synthetic Seas” event, visit

The Eagle River Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. The council strives to protect and enhance the high-quality natural, scenic and economic values that our rivers and tributaries provide to the citizens, visitors and wildlife of the Eagle River and Colorado River watersheds located in Eagle County.

Contact the Eagle River Watershed Council to sign up for the Eagle River Cleanup at 970-827-5406 or

Amanda Nichols is an education and outreach coordinator for the Eagle River Watershed Council.

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