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Volunteers haul trash from Petaluma River

Spring River Clean-up At a Glance

How many participants: 212

Much trash collected: 5,452 pounds.

Types of items removed: old tires, basic household garbage, wooden storm debris, scrap metal, television sets, and vacuum cleaners.


Petaluma River advocates and volunteers hauled trash weighing slightly more than the average weight of a hippopotamus from the waterway on Saturday.

“5,452 pounds,” said Stephanie Bastianon, executive director of Friends of the Petaluma River. “That’s a lot of trash.”

The total weight includes all the litter, tires, household trash, garden waste, twisted metal, storm debris, broken furniture and abandoned electric appliances that were pulled from the Petaluma River May 6, as a massive group of 212 volunteers joined forces with Friends of the Petaluma River for the non-profit’s annual spring river clean-up.

“We had a great turnout,” said Bastianon. “And working together, we removed a substantial amount of trash and debris. It was amazing.”

The whopping 5,452-pound total easily beat last year’s record of 3,500 pounds.

“This is the definitely the biggest haul we’ve had since we started doing this,” Bastianon said of the twice annual effort, now in its 23rd year. “We’ve had a lot of heavy rain, obviously, and all of the extra water tends to push debris out of the tributaries and streams, and into the main part of the river. And with so many more hands on the job this year, it meant we could get more junk out of the water.”

According to Bastianon, trash was collected at 18 different designated sites, with the vast group effort starting at the Petaluma Marina, then moving up and down the river, and into various creeks that lead into the river. Though most of the work was done by people keeping to the banks of the river, Bastianon said there were plenty of workers who took to the water.

“Some people brought kayaks and other fishing type boats,” she said. “They were able to get down into the mud under the water, where a lot of garbage tends to get stuck.”

Because of the rains, the pile of trash this year included a large amount of wood debris, some of it from old pilings, fences, small buildings and other rotting structures that still stand here and there along the river.

“When there are especially heavy rains,” Bastianon said, “those kinds of structures tend to get washed out. Along with that, we always find a lot of bizarre items. This year there was a T.V., a microwave or two, and someone found an old vacuum cleaner in the water. Then there’s always a lot of scrap metal. You wouldn’t believe how much metal ends up in the river.”

Because of such potentially hazardous waste submerged in the water, Bastianon said volunteers are well-trained in how to proceed with caution during all cleanup events.

“There is always the danger of sharp objects,” she said. “We find hypodermic needles and broken glass. So we encourage good thick boots and thick gloves. Since a lot of young people come out to volunteer, we tend to direct them, and families with kids, to some of the safer places to collect trash along the river.”

Bastianon said that the huge number of volunteers this year can be attributed to a rising number of schools assigning public service hour projects to students.

“We’ve had a lot of students reaching out about doing service hours with us,” she said. “And then, there’s been a lot of extra attention lately, because of that boy who’s been collecting trash from the river.”

Spring River Clean-up At a Glance

How many participants: 212

Much trash collected: 5,452 pounds.

Types of items removed: old tires, basic household garbage, wooden storm debris, scrap metal, television sets, and vacuum cleaners.

That would be Live Oak Charter School student DJ Woodbury, 12, who made news last month after collecting more than 2,000 pounds of trash from the Petaluma River.

“What he’s been doing has definitely inspired a lot of other kids and families to start doing the same thing,” Bastianon said.

As important as such cleanup events are, Bastianon pointed out that a better job has to be done to educate people about how easily their trash ends up in the river, and the dangers of dumping unwanted items in or near the water.

“It will take a lot more raising of awareness, throughout the community,” she said. “The river is not a dump, but people treat it that way. It’s great to get together and clean up once in a while, but unless people take ownership of this resource as a vital part of their lives, this will continue to be a problem.”