A watershed moment at Putah Creek

On Saturday, Sept. 15, dozens of people gathered in Rotary Park to participate in the largest single day volunteer event in California and the world.

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On Saturday, Sept. 15, dozens of people gathered in Rotary Park to participate in the largest single day volunteer event in California and the world.  Putah Creek Clean Up, which the Putah Creek Council has hosted for 30 years, is part of the statewide event, Coastal Clean Up Day. “What goes in the creek eventually goes into the ocean,” Angela Lindley explained. Lindley was volunteering with her husband Garth Lindley, a member of the Putah Creek Council board of directors, and their young daughter. Garth Lindley said that it is better to pick up the trash in Putah Creek before it travels to the coast. Items like cigarette butts, which many volunteers found, leach chemicals into the water and soil. Lindley predicted that the bulk of the trash picked up would be anything that could be purchased at a convenience store. He said that in years past they would often find plastic bags. “Because of the ban you don’t get quite as many, which is good,” Lindley said. Each piece of trash collected was categorized and recorded by the volunteers. Amy Williams, the stewardship program manager, told the volunteers that the data they would be collecting about the trash would be as important as the trash itself. Williams explained that the information collected on Coastal Clean Up Day can be used to inspire policy decisions. Much like the litter on the city sidewalks, policy changes in Sacramento eventually trickle down to Putah Creek. Volunteers traveled to six different clean up sites. They walked Putah Creek Road, traveled to the Dry Creek tributary and braved poison oak as they searched through the plant growth in Putah Creek Nature Park. “It’s just crazy how nature just thrives,” Xavia Jackson said as she led a team out to Putah Creek Road. She is a member of the Putah Creek Council Stewardship program, and helped to plant many of the native plants growing in the recently redeveloped Putah Creek Nature Park. The first piece of trash that her group found was a plastic baby bath sitting by the railroad bridge. A few minutes later, somebody found a baby onesie across the street. Down in the park, Brian Keeley and Huaira Ayala lead crews along the north and south banks of Putah Creek. Families and youth groups braved the poison oak as they searched for trash. Winters resident Jaime Wales came to the event with her daughter Alice. Wales said that they often visit Putah Creek Park and pick up trash as they go. On this trip, the pair found a man’s fancy dress shoe propped up in some vegetation. Wales joked that when she saw the shoe she first thought to herself, “I really hoped that’s not attached to something else.” Several children and teens came from Davis join the clean up crew. Adeline Umphress and Ixchel Lopez, the president and vice president of the Davis High School Key Club, heard about the volunteer opportunity and decided to try it out. They hope that next year more of the club will join them. Winters Cub Scout Pack 998 were also out completing a service project. Jesse Svozil said that the boys have been coming out for Putah Creek Clean Up for the last three years. “They come down to play at the creek, so cleaning at the creek is a good opportunity,” Svozil said. One of the cub scouts was joined by his grandfather, Dan Burnette. Burnette has known Putah Creek since he was a child living in the Yolo Housing development in the early 60s. He remembers fishing in the creek and watching beavers build and rebuild their dams after flooding.  Burnette has watched Putah Creek’s development over the decades. He notices that the creek is less cluttered now, and that he no longer sees fallen trees blocking the water. “For the most part the area and the surroundings haven’t changed,” Burnette said as he joined his grandson at the water. Standing at the opposite end of the volunteer spectrum from a long time local like Burnette was Venance Segere, a Hubert Humphrey Fellow from Tanzania. Segere, along with 12 other professionals, is training at U.C. Davis. Segere is a student of environmental science, and he wanted to participate in the Putah Creek Clean Up because it reminded him of an event in his home country. Segere said that his community in Tanzania participates in monthly cleaning days similar to the event at Putah Creek. “We don’t separate them like here,” Segere said, referring to recyclables, “so that’s a problem.” Around noon the volunteers began heading back to Rotary Park to turn in their collection sheets and enjoy a free lunch catered by Chuy’s and Pedrick Produce. People shared the stories of the strange items they found. Ari Hoover found a pile of roughly 40 paper clips. Someone else found a plastic jug of hydrochloric acid. The Davis High School students found a bag of soiled diapers. Segre and his group found a television. As luck would have it, the 10-year-old boys in the cub scout pack were the ones to find a homemade spear. The adults removed the blade and allowed the boys to play with the stick. Outside of all of these odd finds, each group returned with a very similar story: The bulk of the trash they found were food wrappers, plastic bottles and cigarette butts. ]]>

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