North County residents clean up Stillaguamish River

ARLINGTON — Roughly two dozen volunteers of all ages showed up at the Blue Stilly put-in point of the Stillaguamish River July 18 to clean up the garbage that had collected in its parking lot, park area and river banks, and thereby help cut down the amount of garbage in the river system as a whole.

Ann Boyce, executive director of the Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force, credited Arlington-area resident Bill Best with “kind of starting this whole thing,” when he approached Boyce to talk about the river system in 2003. Best, who was on hand for the July 18 clean-up, lives close to the water on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, so when it floods he gets to see garbage either flowing downstream, or else washing up onshore within view of his property. Best became “very frustrated” by the sheer amount of garbage he was seeing and he expressed his concerns to Boyce.

When Best and Boyce looked into the matter, they learned that approximately 80 percent of the garbage that passes through the river system, into Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, comes from land, and more than 90 percent of it is comprised of plastic, styrofoam and other petroleum-based products. The latter issue becomes an even larger problem when this garbage interacts with other types of pollution in the water.

“Even with a relatively small oil slick, small particulates of styrofoam will attract those like oil components, which makes those pieces of styrofoam that much more toxic to organisms such as fish and crabs,” Boyce said. “You and I eat those things, so we want those fish and crabs and other organisms to be as healthy as they can be to ensure that we’re not getting sick ourselves.”

Eight children from the Marysville YMCA Minority Achievers Program turned out for the clean-up, as did five representatives of Naval Station Everett. The rest of the volunteers came from as far away as Everett, Lake Stevens and Granite Falls, and from as close by as Marysville and Arlington High School. They arrived to find a number of trash bags already filled and waiting for them to pick up, which had been stacked by unknown volunteers unaffiliated with the Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force, but even with this unexpected assistence, the Task Force’s crew of volunteers still wound up putting in a few hours of sweaty work under a hot summer sun, walking as far as a mile in each direction, both east and west along the stream.

“Some years, we may only get 20-25 bags,” said Boyce, who added that the Task Force’s annual clean-up of the Blue Stilly put-in point has been ongoing since 2004. “In other past years, we’ve gotten more than 100 bags. Maybe they hadn’t had other clean-ups very recently, or maybe a lot of people had done their dumping just beforehand. We just assume that, after the Fourth of July, there might be a lot of clean-up.”

Mark Strohl, a sailor home-ported at Naval Station Everett, found that the majority of what he was picking up was either empty beer bottles, used fireworks or other types of broken glass.

“I definitely learned that there’s a lot of trash along rivers, and a lot of community service that’s needed in this area to clean up the garbage that people leave behind when they visit these recreation areas,” Strohl said. “It’s good to get out, clean up and make places like this safer for the public to use.”

Strohl also appreciated the opportunity to get involved with, and give back to, the local community and to show the positive side of the U.S. Navy in the process.

Marysville mom Kim Graham came out to the clean-up as part of the class requirements for the bio-anthropology course that she’s taking as she works toward her bachelor’s degree, but she also attended to give her 11-year-old daughter, Taylor, the chance to live out her beliefs.

“She’s a very go-green girl,” Kim Graham said of Taylor, as mother and daughter picked up trash together. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity for her to help the environment. It was my first time here, and even though my course only requires me to come out here once, I will be back.”

Graham shared Strohl’s amazement at the amount of garbage they found along the river which she considered selfish of the visitors who leave it behind.

“A lot of people are not so respectful of the environment,” Graham said. “People come out here to have a good time and enjoy the beauty and the atmosphere of it, but then they seem to have no regard for the place once they leave. This is the only Earth that we have, so when you come here to have a good time just remember to take the trash that you brought back with you when you go.”

Marysville YMCA Minority Achievers Program Coordinator Liane Ha’i noted that other community service projects have managed to attract slightly higher turnouts of children in the MAP, but given the summer weather, she expressed her gratitude for the number of kids who did show up. While the MAP kids engage in many such service activities throughout the local community, the July 18 clean-up marked their first time helping the Task Force at the Blue Stilly put-in point.

“A lot of these kids come from large families and their parents go to the rivers to fish and bring home salmon, or go down to Kayak Point to get crabs,” Ha’i said, “so it’s important for their kids to give back to the community by cleaning those places up and keeping our fish and other wildlife as healthy as they can be.”

In spite of the day’s relatively small group from the Minority Achievers Program, Ha’i was impressed by the children’s “passion and desire to come out and help,” and expressed the hope that they’ll learn that the ecosystem might not be doing as well as they’d like to believe.

“From a distance, it might look like the river is really clean, but when you get in there and start cleaning it up, you’ll find a lot of trash,” Ha’i said. “People need to be a little bit more aware of what they do with their trash.”

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