Thursday, October 9, 2014

Great Willamette Cleanup, 2014.

Great Willamette Cleanup, 2014.

One of the last wonderful sunny weekends of the year. And a Saturday, to boot. Should I sleep in til 7:00 and then sit around with my partner having our weekend coffee and banter? No, clearly I should get up at 6:00, jump into my pre-loaded car in the dark and scurry off to pick up trash with my Kayaking meetup.

Thats right, pick up trash. Because it is once again time for the annual Great Willamette Cleanup. This is my third time for this event. It is run by the Willamette Riverkeepers organization. They stage little local events down 187 miles of the river. Some are land based, some are BYOB (Bring your own boat). But all of them have Riverkeeper support and someone will show up with trash bags and plastic gloves and coordination from local government for proper removal of whatever it is that you pull out of the river. And there are some pretty strange things that are pulled out. More on that later. Today we have this absolutely wonderful morning to do something about. The Meetup is …... well..... meeting up, at 8:00 at Willamette park in West Linn (not the one in Portland, no no). This time of year, this means that the sun is just clearing the trees when I go onto the 205 curves that lead from the 5 to the river at West Linn/Oregon City. Good thing I saw that line of sunlight on the road ahead and had my sun glasses and car visor ready cause that old sun was BRIGHT. I expected to see cars swerving off the road in front of me when the hit the line. No such luck. Perhaps next year.

I arrived a little early and got a prime parking spot at the boat ramp. Even then a few cars with kayaks on top were already parked and getting ready to unload. I walked down to the ramp and took a look at the morning. That warm looking yellow morning tinge was on the trees (some with a little fall color) and the river was calm and steaming. A few fisherman were out trolling for salmon and across the river a freight train was making itself known with a loud click a clack and whistle. Wow. What a wonderful morning. I suddenly didn't feel bad about having to get up at 6:00. Better get my boat in the water.

My partner couldn't make it today (don't worry, she is relatively safe back at home and will join us again in a future adventure) so I had the job of unloading my boat by myself. My partner and I have talked some about this whole loading and racking and self reliance thing and we are going to author a joint posting on that topic. Our readership base demands such things, you know. Where was I? Oh yes, unloading my boat. To facilitate the solo thing I brought my short light high tech material boat, an Eddyline Journey (which I call “Journey”). Haven't had the old girl out on the water in a while, but since she is 10 to 20 pounds lighter than a Tempest I can sling her on and off the car (and the water) by myself. Makes me look very impressive and it is highly likely that I will still be able to walk the next day. In retrospect, I would also say that a shorter boat is better for a clean-up day. Easier to get in and out of the boat (because the short boats usually have larger cockpit openings) and easier to maneuver into tight places.

Ooooh. They have the new Origami Kayaks from Oru Kayak.

While people are pulling up and getting all of their kayaking paraphenalia together I think we might want to ask the question, “Why the Great Willamette Cleanup?” The Willamette is a unique river in a few fun ways. It is the longest river in North America, for instance, that flows North. Of course, if you try to name another big river that flows north you are going to be hard put. (The Nile doesn't count as that isn't in North America. Really).

Back at the end of the last ice age (10,000 years or so ago) the Missoula Lake would break it's ice dam and drain a lake the size of the state of Montana down the Columbia river.  The water is said to have flowed 80 miles per hour!  This process happened a bunch of times.  The place where the Columbia and Willamette met would get clogged and the flow would back up into the Willamette Valley, making a new lake that was 400 feet deep and reached from Portland to Salem (call it a hundred miles). Into this lake would float pieces of that ice damn. Ice Bergs, really, and these ice bergs would have huge pieces of Montana rock encased in them. When the ice melted, they would drop these chunks of the midwest right into the flat mud of the receding lake.  And there they stay to this day. You can find them around the valley, they are called Glacial Erratics. (Not to be confused with Glacial Erotics, which is a different blog entirely)

Erratic State Park

The Willamette was also the terminus of the Oregon Trail. And it seems that as soon as the Oregon settlers got to the river they started throwing things into it. This seems like a bad idea as the river was also the water supply for the inhabitants of the area. In Oregon City, where the Oregon Trail ends, is also the Falls of the Willamette. This 40 foot falls was impassable to shipping and neatly cut the river into 2 different waterways (well, at least as far as white settler's barges were concerned). But the falls did make for a neat way to generate power, initially as motive power for running the paper mills that sprang up there, but eventually for electric power for running the lights and the various electric train and tram ways that were growing up in the city. All of this industry attracted people, and both the industry and the people were dumping their waste directly into the river. By the 1920's the river was essentially an open sewer and the City Club of Portland condemned it as such naming the city of Portland as the chief offender. Though the State passed clean-up initiatives and various governors tried to crack down on major commercial polluters, things continued to get worse. In 1990, the lower part of the River, below the falls, was named a super site.

Before the worst of it.

In the 50's

And all of this was just the big guys polluting. At the same time people were being people and practicing the age old habit of pretending that something wasn't there if you couldn't see it. Want to get rid of that tin can? Or that shoe? Or that old car or bail of barbwire? Just throw it in the river !!

Now the factories have been largely shut down and cleaned up. The Lower River, through the city, is now considered safe enough to swim and play in. But those shoes and cars and bails of barbwire are still in there and just need to be pulled out.

And so, here we are. Our boats unloaded and ready to venture out a cleaning.

First, Suze, the river biologist for the River Keepers (Sorry if I got that wrong) had us fill out the legal paperwork and gave us a safety and process talk. (You know what to be careful of on the Rock Islands in the Narrows? Of course I know. Poison Oak !!). Then we grabbed some big trash bags and our kayaks and set off up river.
oh good. Some Canoes. They can haul the heavy stuff and the dead bodies.

You may have already figured out that we are cleaning from the Willamette park in West Linn (right at the mouth of the Tualatin River) up stream to the Rock Islands that form The Narrows. The Meetup goes that way pretty often as it is close to town and very scenic. Today we are looking for a different kind of scenery.

Everyone is spaced out pretty far from each other, some people are powering toward the Narrows (“there's good trash huntin' in those islands”) others are poking in all along the way grabbing random trash on the shore (the trick is to wrangle it with your paddle so you don't have to get out of your kayak). I saw this one funny thing. Looked like a net hung between some green metal posts. The posts were exactly spaced and the netting (not really visible) tied up on the shore side. I waved people away, “looks like some kind of scientific experiment someone is doing on the River” I said, using my vast engineering knowledge.

Hey, Stay away from that SCIENCE EXPERIMENT !!

Our River Biologist was less sanguine. “Looks like an upside down pop-up gazebo to me”.

I looked closer.

Dammit. That is exactly what it was. No wonder those 4 legs were so precisely spaced. Must have blown out of someones yard. It wasn't even all that “involved” in the river. Came right up when we pulled on it. Must have gone in this summer. But you know what? It is hard to pull a large (even light) thing out of the water when you are in kayaks. You just can't get a purchase anywhere except right from the middle of your boat, and even then there is this tendency to flip the hell over. We got one corner up and then started to undo the cloth top. What did we find? It was a dang Oregon Ducks Canopy. Probably came out of the yard of the million dollar house right behind us. We were tempted to just pull it over and drop it on their half million dollar dock.

It would have looked like this set up in their yard:

Well, perhaps some grass would have been there.

We got the cover off, but we still couldn't manage the thing. We couldn't get it to collapse. We thought it was broken or stuck open cause we pushed and nothing moved. If we were on land, we may have gotten one person on each corner and pushed, but you really can't push like that in a bunch of small boats. We did finally mange to get one foot of the thing into 4 different boats. Now what?

Yes, I blurred the faces some. How do we move this thing?

Well, since it wouldn't collapse we just paddled it the half mile back to the dumpster. Slow and easy. We were not exactly a nimble combination craft. But we did manage to get back in 20 minutes or so and only got minimal abuse from the local fishermen trolling by in their big boats. This entire thing had turned into more of a team building exercise amongst strangers that any real trash collecting. Good thing the rest of the club was out hitting the narrows for us. Once we delivered our haul to the collection point we hit the river again.

We followed along in the wake left by the rest of the group. We took the West channel up around the rock islands. Our biologist explained that this channel was fairly unique. It had deep slow running water and a place for fish and other animals to hide in the shade and away from predators (and fishermen). It was steep too, on both sides (especially the land side) with rock facing coming up 20 feet out of the water. Most of the islands and the big hill going up to the main road are now owned by the Nature Conservancy. They are doing some work on the hill for preservation. The islands are habitat for a number of species unusual to the area, including Madrone trees and some rock growing succulents. Also Poison Oak.

We landed in a little bay and went through the woods to the little campground on the island to pick up trash. Or rather the rest of the team did this. As the token big strong male, I saw the Poison Oak and bailed back out to the safety of my Kayak. Perhaps it is a phobia when you are faced with the possibility of going through the stuff and you suddenly feel the desperate need for a Tums.

See the Green Stuff? That is Poison Oak. Or perhaps Poison Ivy.

I went around through the connecting channel and met up with them on the other side. Turned out there was a perfectly serviceable Poison-Oak-free beach on the river side of the islands. Not much trash there, however. The rest of the group must have beat us to it.

The cliffs on the rock islands are high.

The undeveloped campsite.


And time is getting late, so back to the dock we went. We got to see some of the other trash that people have pulled in. The main big things our group got were the pop-up canopy (which folded right down once I saw the damn release catches) and a set of car tires. I also got a half a beer can.

Damn Thing folded right up. Not so impressive now

Not quite as impressive as the things I have seen in past years, pulled out of the river by groups down below the falls and in the really populated parts of the river.
Things like:
  1. Large steal plumbing pipes
  2. Railroad Spikes
  3. Bicycle Tires
  4. Bicycles
  5. Fridge (OK, we couldn't get this, but we could see it down there)
  6. Many Newspaper Dispensers
    1. You know, the kind where you put in a dollar and take just one paper, cause you are honest.
    2. But someone wasn't honest.
    3. Someone went around stole a bunch of them, took out the quarters and then threw them off of the bridge. And there they were.
  7. Bail of Barb Wire (ha. You thought I had made that up, didn't you?)
  8. Door
  9. Tires
  10. Plastic Bottles
  11. Paint Cans
  12. And lost of random pieces of styrofoam

Check out the Riverkeepers website. They should have some good pictures. Oh what the hell, here is a link. If you want to do something like this, it happens every year. You can sign up for water based or land based work and afterwards you get a nice T-shirt and a big party back at the Portland Boathouse. You also get to do something for your community. Hell, for your grandkids community.

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