A few weeks ago as spring began to take hold, I started looking for opportunities to spend my lunch breaks outside in the sun. It didn’t take long for me to find some perfect picnic spots along the Blue River, just a couple of minutes walk from the office. Sitting down by the rushing river, with the Ten Mile range in view, I thought to myself, “this is why I choose to live and work here!” It is such a precious and rare opportunity for most people and I hope to never take the beauty that surrounds us here for granted.
Unfortunately my bubble quickly burst as I noticed all the litter around me and once I started looking specifically for trash I realized it was everywhere in the river. Plastic especially has become a ubiquitous feature of this ecosystem: it is in the rocks and the roots and the mud and grass. At first you might not even notice it because it has been grafted into the natural fabric as if it had always been there, as if it belongs there. It struck me as completely contradictory to my idealized view of our community being pristine and in harmony with the natural world. This is not Breckenridge. This is not Summit. This is the dirty city that I thought I left behind when I moved here.
I don’t know if the trash is particularly bad this year, this is my first spring in Summit County. Perhaps the mountain clean up day was cancelled as the season ended so abruptly? Perhaps the town clean up effort was not as effective this year with the COVID 19 restrictions in place? Or perhaps this is sadly an accumulation of years of neglect, after all scrambling through the briars in freezing cold water picking up trash is certainly not what most people consider fun!
Unable to just sit and eat my lunch looking at all the waste around me I started picking up. In 40 minutes I could easily fill a garbage bag of trash pulled from the river in just a 15 yard stretch. At times it felt discouraging to see how much rubbish there is and how long it has been there, however it felt good to be making a difference. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the problems around us, especially this year, so finding a problem that I could easily work towards solving was refreshing and rewarding. One day as my lunch break was ending, I pulled myself from the thicket of willows (always hard when there is still trash to be picked up!) and realized my backpack was not where I had left it. I searched along the rec path, certain that it had to be there somewhere. But it was gone. I didn’t want to believe it was stolen. Emma posted online to see if someone had grabbed it thinking it was accidentally left behind – sadly to no avail. The response from the community was amazing though! Before the day was out, I had multiple offers from neighbors to buy a new backpack, lunch and even more thanks and encouragement for my efforts to clean the river. I was blown away! I made the suggestion that what I would really appreciate, in lieu of monetary donations for a new bag, would be for everyone to take a little time to pick up trash from their nearest creek, river, or lake.
And that’s how our Blue River Clean Up day began. Bobby offered to sponsor an office volunteer day and invite the community to join us cleaning up our river! The Town of Breckenridge Maintenance Department contributed trash pickers and trash bags and the turn-out was great. Volunteers of all ages came out to make a positive change in our community: Tracy brought her kids, Savanah brought her mom (who was on vacation from Pennsylvania!) and our friends from IBD Design studio joined us as well as many others. We focused on the Blue River north and south of the French Street bridge. In a few hours we had collected a huge pile of trash: everything from old metal signs and large plastic scraps to packing peanuts and cigarette butts. It was so encouraging to see so many other people who care enough about our local environment to get down and dirty pulling hand warmers and beer cans from the thickets and combing the banks for cigarette butts and cliff bar wrappers. It was a great way to connect with the community and be reminded that there is more good than evil. We have the power to work for good and make an impact.
Many people (other volunteers and also passers by) asked when the next clean up will be. While we have not yet scheduled another clean up, there are many resources out there for those who want to help our river. The Summit Daily published this article just before our clean up.
The Blue River Watershed Group is organizing a river clean up August 29th.
Here is a link to a survey that will help in the formulation of a management plan for the Blue River.
I, for one, plan on joining these community efforts. I hope you will join me.