Stilly River cleanup collects trash from habitat

From left, Scott Fuller and Tyrell Shavers trim blackberry bushes to get at discarded bottles, cans and other refuse. -
From left, Scott Fuller and Tyrell Shavers trim blackberry bushes to get at discarded bottles, cans and other refuse.
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ARLINGTON For the third year in a row, area residents aided representatives of the city of Arlington, Snohomish County, local colleges, regional veterans and even the state Department of Corrections in cleaning up the Blue Stilly put-in point on the north fork of the Stillaguamish River.
The Aug. 25 cleanup attracted 15 volunteers, down from last years turnout of more than 30. Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force Executive Director Ann Boyce attributed this shortfall to the days dark weather.
When weve had stream plantings, at least 100 people show up, said Boyce, who credited the Tulalip Charitable Foundation, Snohomish County Public Works and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife with contributing funding, resources and services to the cleanup, including trash bags and the hauling away of garbage collected.
Its a continuing problem, Boyce said. People toss their trash into the bushes during parties, or dump illegally, and because this river gets high flows on a regular basis, that just washes it out into Puget Sound where it hurts the salmon and other wildlife.
Boyce also expressed dismay that the amount of off-road driving that occurs on the river banks which is equally harmful to local salmon populations, but at the same time commended the community members who do their part to keep the area clean.
We hope more people, when they see all this land, dont just think, Oh, more space to put my garbage, Boyce said. Id like to see more respect for nature.
City of Arlington Natural Resources Director Bill Blake donned his work gloves for the event and echoed Boyces assessment.
When people can drive right to a site, theres going to be more garbage, Blake said. Its not the fishermen as much, because they do tend to clean up after themselves. I still show up and get dirty for these cleanups. Its not enough to say youre part of it. Sometimes, you just have to go out and do it.
James Yourkowski, of the state Department of Corrections, supervised his own work crew at the cleanup, as they trimmed blackberry bushes to get at discarded bottles, cans and other refuse.
For some of them, its court-ordered, Yourkowski said. For others, its a stipulation, like if they miss an AA or NA meeting. They tend to work harder at these types of sites. They tell me its because they enjoy it more and feel like theyre giving back.
Yourkowski appreciates the opportunity that these cleanups have given his work crews, since a number of organizations are either unable or unwilling to accept them as volunteer labor.
Were willing to give a helping hand to any organization thatll take it, Yourkowski said. Were willing to do just about anything.
Sean Edwards, of Snohomish County Public Works, joined Edmonds Community Colleges Kerrie and Tom Murphy in picking broken glass, nails and even metal wires out of a campfire on the river bank.
People just dont understand what happens when they leave this stuff behind, said Kerrie Murphy, program coordinator for the colleges Center for Service Learning. A lot of it winds up underwater.
Its out of sight, out of mind, Edwards said. It destroys the Chinook spawning habitat. Its so sad to see this misuse of such a wonderful natural resource. This river is a beautiful thing that a lot of people cherish, many of them because they have childhood memories of swimming, fishing and boating here. Its disappointing to see it trashed, but its inspiring to see these cleanups build a sense of community ownership.
Tom Murphy, who runs the Edmonds Community College Learn-and-serve Environmental Anthropology Field School, hopes that these cleanups might serve as a gateway for volunteers to participate in other such projects.
Students prefer these cleanups because they can see the results of their work, Murphy said. Its immediate gratification. At the LEAF School, we study the role that humans play in the ecosystem, and we do a lot of work in the Arlington area, here and Portage Creek and Prairie Creek. Its a great opportunity for students to improve the environment while earning scholarships.
For Gordy Graham, a field coordinator with the state Veterans Conservation Corps, such cleanups can be as beneficial for veterans as they are for the land itself.
Especially if theyve been in armed conflicts, a lot of veterans suffer from PTSD, so projects like this get them to come out of their caves and play, Graham said. Does it make a huge difference? Its hard to say sometimes, but doing nothing is always worse.
Silvanas Kimberly and Sophia Searles have already done cleanups of the Blue Stilly put-in point, but this was their first time doing it as part of a group.
Were normally freelance cleaners, laughed Kimberly, as her 8-year-old daughter Sophie ventures into the bushes to retrieve bottles and cans. We spend a lot of time on the river, but its harder to enjoy it when you see stuff like this. I try to pass on a respect for the river and nature to Sophie.
I feel horrible, said Sophie, as she dropped the bottles and cans into a trash bag. I dont want this to happen to the environment. A lot of things that people throw away could hurt the animals or make them die. People shouldnt do this. I love animals, and I like doing what I can to help them.

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