Volunteers celebrate 20th annual Eagle River Cleanup
EAGLE COUNTY — During the past 20 years, the local creeks and rivers have seen a lot of trash wash up on their banks. Most of it, thanks to volunteers, has found its way to the local landfill.
On Saturday, hundreds of volunteers gathered once again for the Eagle River Cleanup, with this year’s being the 20th annual.
Ken Neubecker and Tom Gaylord were there for the first cleanup, and remember it well. So well, in fact, that they both wore their original T-shirts from the inaugural event to Saturday’s post-cleanup celebration.
“Never been worn,” Neubecker said of his, and indeed the lettering on the back, complete with Vail Associates sponsor logo, was as crisp as you’d find on the T-shirts on Charlie’s racks today.
“The first cleanup had 24 people, and 12 of them had to be there — they were VA ski patrollers,” Neubecker said with a laugh. “At that time, we only did Gore Creek, because that’s all we had the people for. When we first started it, there was years of accumulated trash.”
Despite 20 years of hard work, not all of the existing trash has been uncovered.
On Friday, a Lacroix Liberty ski from 1977 was found by Dana Erickson of the Edwards Rotary team.
“It looked like it had been there for a while,” she said.
For her discovery, Erickson won the Most Unusual Trash award, a derivation of Neubecker’s original “Golden Toilet Seat Award for Best in Trash,” as he called it.
“I went to Walmart, got the cheapest toilet seat I could find and a can of gold spray paint,” he said.
Throughout the years, there have been some outrageous finds along Gore Creek and the Eagle River. Probably the best one, says Neubecker, is the “dryer with the mythical one sock in it,” which took several strong bodies to haul out.
These days, there’s less and less interesting trash found during the annual cleanup. Neubecker likes to think that’s due to a greater cause than the cumulative effect of the last two decades of cleanup days like Saturday’s.
“Hopefully, it’s because people are more conscientious,” he said.
A family-friendly event, reaching younger generations with the cleanup has also helped spread public consciousness regarding trash along the local rivers over the years.
“It teaches the kids a great culture of volunteerism,” said volunteer Stu Hinton. “And they start having pride in their community when their young. I think that’s the best thing about it, besides the actual cleaning of the river.”
LOVING THAT LUNCH
The Most Unusual Trash certificate is awarded at the post-cleanup lunch, held every year at the Broken Arrow in Arrowhead. Neubecker and Gaylord say that “thank-you party” lunch has really helped make the event special over the years, and likely contributed to the large volunteer turnout.
“Right from the beginning we knew we wanted to have a gathering afterward where people could socialize and feel good about what they accomplished,” Neubecker said.
Bob Moroney has been the impetus for the post-party all these years. His club, the Arrowhead Alpine Club, rallies as much support as they can from their members, says Moroney, and gets to work on feeding the hungry volunteers. These days, getting the help he needs is easier than you might expect.
“If you’re just getting to the community, how do you get to be a real part of the community? How do you meet your neighbors, so to speak? It can be a real challenge,” Moroney said.
For Lu Syracusa, who’s been volunteering in the Arrowhead Alpine Club’s post-cleanup kitchen for nine years, the answer to those questions was easy.
“I look forward to this and the highway cleanup every year,” she said.
Arrowhead Alpine Club member Emilie Egan volunteered for the first time this year.
“We were doubled over with laughter in the kitchen,” she said. “It was a blast. I don’t know why I haven’t done it sooner.”