Many hands help with cleanup at Vancouver Lake, Riverside

Hundreds of volunteers pick up trash, clear invasive plants during cleanup

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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It sounds like a bad yard sale inventory: a busted pool table, a pickup truck bed liner, and an old toilet. And don’t forget the twisted piece of a Volkswagen Beetle — seat belt still attached.

None of those treasures went home with anyone Saturday. Instead, each was pulled from in and around Vancouver Lake and trashed as part of a coordinated cleanup effort around Southwest Washington and Oregon.

More than 4,500 volunteers turned out in total, according to organizer Sustaining Oregon’s Legacy by Volunteering, or SOLV, based in Hillsboro, Ore. The biggest concentration of workers — 536 men, women and children — tackled 13 spots in the Vancouver area.

“It was fantastic,” said organizer Steve Nicholson. “If we didn’t have rain, I think we would have had even more.”

Saturday’s numbers were largely boosted by a local stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which brought some 350 volunteers as part of the church’s Day of Service, according to Nicholson, a high councilor from the church’s Vancouver Washington Stake. A large group of Wells Fargo bank employees also participated, he said.

The bulk of Saturday’s local work concentrated on two main areas: Vancouver Lake Park and the north bank of the Columbia River between Interstate 5 and Wintler Park. In just over three hours, volunteers picked up 4,480 pounds of trash and hauled out 2,340 pounds of invasive Himalayan blackberry vines, according to Gary Bock, executive director of the Vancouver Watersheds Council, which helped coordinate Saturday’s local effort.

Other organizations and agencies brought equipment and resources to help out. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and a local sailing club helped put workers on Vancouver Lake and pull garbage out of the water where workers on foot couldn’t, Bock said. That included areas near the dead-end Erwin O. Rieger Memorial Highway, which circles the west and north side of the lake.

“That was where some of our more horrifying trash came from,” Bock said.

Vancouver has become a large part of SOLV’s biggest annual cleanup event since the organization expanded it beyond ocean sites last year, said program coordinator Rachael Pecore. The city brought about 300 volunteers to the 2010 cleanup, she said.

“And they must have had a good time,” Pecore said.

Bock and Nicholson both said the event’s family atmosphere — many workers picked up trash along side their children Saturday — had a lot to do with that. Bock offered a simple reason as to why Vancouver has made such a strong showing.

“We’re a good-sized community who likes to get out and do things,” he said.

The entire Beach and Riverside Cleanup removed an estimated 67,900 pounds of trash — much of it cigarette butts — from Oregon and Southwest Washington watersheds on Saturday, according to SOLV. The event coincided with the International Coastal Cleanup that pulled together volunteers in more than 100 countries, according to SOLV.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.