Standing amid 150 volunteers below the Riverbend Park shelter, Kolleen Miller details the evolution of the 22nd annual Deschutes River Clean-Up, hosted by the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. As the Education Director for the UDWC, Miller has led this seasonal effort for 16 years.
"Originally, the purpose of the cleanup was to address post logging remnants of industrial usage in the Old Mill," explains Miller. "As access increased through commercial and city development, user groups on this stretch of water changed, and so did the goals of the cleanup. We found ourselves cleaning up after recreationalists more and more. At some point we realized users leaving behind bottles, cans, sandals, sunglasses and other debris needed to be educated, and the next step was an awareness campaign."
To achieve public awareness, the Bend Park and Recreation District, the Old Mill District, Deschutes County Health, BendBroadband and Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe partnered with the UDWC and formed the Enjoy Protect Respect committee.
Miller says the ultimate hope of the EPR committee is for user behavior to change, so that a yearly cleanup will eventually no longer be necessary. And her ambition is in sight. Last year volunteers removed 2,000 pounds of rubbish during the cleanup. With more resources than ever, volunteers removed just 434 pounds of trash this year.
The EPR committee attributes the dramatic drop to getting the word out. Social media blasts, email campaigns, published articles, a two-minute educational film and participating in and promoting the annual Deschutes River Clean-Up are some of the communication initiatives.
Jessica McDonald, prevention project coordinator for Deschutes County Health and EPR committee coordinator says, "One of the many reasons the EPR committee is excited to help out today with the river cleanup is to enhance the overall health and usability of the Deschutes River through active community engagement. The Enjoy Protect Respect team believes that keeping the river healthy and clean is at the core of long-term river conservation and protection."
During the cleanup, McDonald led a charge of 10 floaters who collected trash via Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe's Green Tubes—specially equipped with mesh bags for securing rubbish. She explained, "The Green Tubes represent awareness for river cleanliness and general river health. This was a meaningful experience for our group as we pulled almost an entire trash bag full of garbage and random things out of the river. One of our volunteers even helped rescue a struggling floater." The most interesting thing found: a champagne bottle.
BPRD Rangers on foot patrol also noted the green and orange concession rental river tubes as a reason for decreased trash this year, saying the mesh, closed bottoms helped floaters avoid losing belongings. The design of tubes also made them less likely to flip, compared to tubes used in previous years.
For patrons willing to help clean up the river and engage other floaters in conservation discussions, Green Tubes are available as a no-cost rental at Bend Park & Float.
Volunteers say every river user is invited to help with stewardship through enjoying the river safely (wearing a life jacket and securing all of your gear properly), picking up trash and belongings, and entering and exiting in specified approved access points. See enjoyprotectrespectdeschutes.org or upperdeschuteswatershedcouncil.org for more information.
Trash items found in or around the banks of the river as reported by UDWC intern, Skyler Tupper:
Plastic bottles 15
Cigarette Filters 42
Fast food containers 9
Fishing tackle 6
Plastic Fragments 42
Glass beverage bottles 194
Tarpaulin and plastic sheets 15
Food wrappers 8
Glass and Ceramic fragments 27
Beverage cans 134
Aerosol cans 3
Household appliances 4
Beverage cans aluminum 134
Wire and barbed wire 7
Metal fragments 21
Pounds of trash break down:
Total 434 lbs.
Weeds (invasive) 197 lbs.
Garbage 237 lbs.
Recyclables 149 lbs.