Volunteers thrash trash along the Colorado River
A group of volunteers set off downriver from the Loma boat ramp on Saturday morning in order to collect trash from one of the most well-used local stretches of the Colorado River — the Ruby-Horsethief Canyon areas between Loma and Westwater, Utah.
The cleanup is an annual event put on by the Colorado Canyons Association, a local nonprofit aiming to protect the three federally managed National Conservation Areas in Grand Junction’s backyard: McInnis Canyons, Dominguez-Escalante and the Gunnison Gorge.
The volunteer group, led by staff from the association and river rangers from the Bureau of Land Management, planned to spend a good chunk of the day Saturday and today bagging up trash found along the 25-mile stretch of water and on river islands, camping out Saturday night and exiting the river at Westwater by 3 p.m., or 4 p.m. today.
The event tends to draw about 20 to 25 people, said Kate Graham, assistant director for the Colorado Canyons Association.
“It’s probably one of our most popular events,” Graham said. “A lot of people are back in the valley from their travels and still looking to squeeze a little bit of summer out of what remains.”
She said there’s a “core group” of about five to 10 river-runners who come year after year, making the event a good opportunity for people new to river recreation to meet experienced floaters — volunteers bring their own boats, from rafts to Duckys to canoes, and often swap around on their watercraft in order to try out new “rigs.”
The volunteers are also asked to bring a potluck item for camp dinner, Graham said, and some folks bring instruments and play them in the evening, once the trash collection is done for the day, while others prepare their dinners or play bocce ball.
“We say it’s two half-days of hard work and two half-days of play,” Graham said.
But there’s still a whole lot of trash to pick up, too, said Bureau of Land Management river ranger Shaun Ray.
“In 2011, I think we pulled out 80-something tires,” Ray said of a previous Ruby-Horsethief cleanup. He’s also collected a couple refrigerators.
Ray travels on a large raft with the volunteers during the trip, collecting the bags of trash and big items the volunteers gather together and leave on easy-to-access spots.
Most of the trash, though, is junk that has been swept downriver during high water, not items being carelessly left behind by river users, Ray said. He’s been impressed with the “sense of ownership” he’s seen along the river since the BLM put a permitting system into effect in 2012.
“Most good river-runners are picking up trash even when it’s not theirs as they go down their stretch — they’re having some pride in the river they run,” Ray said.