Tiffany Garcia didn’t know where to begin picking up trash and litter as she walked through the Arkansas riverbed on Saturday.
“There’s just so much of it, I don’t know where to start,” the Garden City Community College student said as she surveyed a cluster of plants and trees decorated with litter.
Garcia, of Hugoton, was just one of dozens of GCCC students, organizations and community members who volunteered for GCCC Student Government Association’s riverbed cleanup event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The cleanup — originally scheduled for April 22 but rescheduled due to the weather — was GCCC’s way of celebrating Earth Day.
Ramona Vreeland, along with her children were among some of the participants in the cleanup. She said she and her family walk their dog in the riverbed daily, and after seeing all of the trash, they became “horrified.”
“My partner and I would talk about how horrified we are with all the trash down here,” she said, adding that it led to her partner, GCCC art instructor Brian McCallum, posting sarcastic Facebook posts about items he found in the river.
McCallum posted a photo of the trash or litter, which would range from couches, beds and furniture, to toys and other miscellaneous items, andhe included satirical sales pitches as if he was selling the item at no charge.
At the time SGA was planning its Earth Day activities, the organization was approached by McCallum about possibly hosting a riverbed cleanup, said SGA President Clay Woydziak.
“When he brought that to our attention, we were like, ‘Yeah, this is perfect’,” Woyziak said. “After talking about it and brainstorming, we thought it would be an awesome thing to do.”
Woydziak estimates there were 100 to 150 people participating in the cleanup, though a more accurate number will be determined after waivers signed by participants are counted, he said.
GCCC’s SGA, along with various other GCCC clubs, volunteered for the event, as well as some local Boy Scouts and even a team of people from Tyson Fresh Meats.
“The goal is to get everyone together and get the river clean,” Woydziak said. “It was surprising to see people came out, were so willing, and jumped in on it. It made the job very easy.”
Residents who live in the Sagebrush Estates, a housing edition southwest of the riverbed, also helped. Angie Price was one of them.
“We drive by this all the time, and we’d like to see it beautiful, not grungy or gross,” Price said, adding that Sagebrush residents typically hold an annual riverbed cleanup in the same area.
Vreeland said the cleanup was a “big deal” for Garden City, since it is not common for such a large group to come together to take on a large task.
“ … I’m supporting that just as much as I am the river cleanup. There’s such power when people come together to make a positive change,” Vreeland said. “ … “It’s not like people haven’t been caring about this place (riverbed), but the number of people who have been dumping has kind of surpassed the number of people that have been taking care of it.”
Price said she knows people dump in the riverbed, but knows the litter could have gotten there other ways, as well.
“Maybe they’re trying to keep their car clean, but instead they’re littering to the world, or they just don’t care,” Price said. “I think some stuff blows out of people’s cars and trucks, but most of this — the big stuff — they have to throw it there. That’s really sad.”
Woydziak said he and other members of SGA were surprised to see so much trash in the riverbed.
“When we were scouting, it was pretty messy,” he said, noting that he was told by a person who lives in Sagebrush that the river was not as litter-filled as it has been in the past. “That’s interesting to see how bad it is, even though it’s been better in the past.”
Items collected in the cleanup included tires, old couches, beds, TVs and other appliances, as well as empty plastic bottles, beer and soda cans, and even full bags of discarded trash.
While picking up litter, some participants also found dumped, deceased animals left in bags, as well as used needles and syringes. Some also found makeshift shelters made of tarps, wood and other materials with stashes of canned foods, which they believed a homeless person created for shelter.
Price said the oddest thing she found was the skeleton of a mouse inside a glass beer bottle.
“He found his way in, but not his way out,” she said. “I also found a perfectly good hub cap that somebody probably had to replace, because it looked new… There was lots of cigarette packages and tobacco cans, and beer bottles and pop cans.”
Both Garcia and Mireya Chavez said the most common item they saw in the riverbed was plastic bottles.
Chavez, a GCCC student from Scott City, said they did not expect to see as much trash as they did.
“(I think people dump in the river) because they’re too lazy to go to a dump or put it in the trash,” Chavez said. “I think if people just picked up after themselves and didn’t bring trash out here, it would stay clean.”
Vreeland found a small, rust metal container that she will use in one of her art creations.
“I actually like to collect found items and turn them into sculpture,” she said. “It will actually go into the center of a bunch of broken glass pieces and become a flower… I’ve had an interesting relationship with trash as an artist. I see it differently.”
Woydziak, Vreeland and Price each said that they are unsure why people choose to dump litter in the riverbed, but believe part of it is because people are not aware of the appropriate places or resources for getting rid of litter.
Woydizak noted that he could see GCCC’s riverbed cleanup becoming an annual event.
“Since it’s been such a success, it would be cool for SGA to be able to facilitate that annually and get everyone on board,” he said. “It would probably just grow and grow from there.”
Contact Josh Harbour at firstname.lastname@example.org.