By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Eric Santsche spent Saturday morning in the rain, pulling trash from wet leaves in Glen and tossing the bags he filled into a trash container.
"A lot of dirty diapers," the eight-year-old said of his findings.
Yurok Tribe member Michelle Santsche brought her sons to help with the annual Klamath River cleanup. In boots, raincoats and work gloves, the trio scoured backroads for piles of trash.
"I want my family to see what impact the garbage and everything has to our reservation and how important it is to clean up," the Klamath resident said. "I think they're understanding."
Across the road, six-year-old Ryan dug at the base of a tree trunk.
"This wire is choking that tree," he called.
Santsche waved toward the littered woods.
"This is awful," she said.
"And cruel," Eric added.
More than 100 tribal members and Del Norte County residents celebrated Earth Day a day early and in the rain, hauling trash piled along back roads and tucked in the woods along the Klamath River.
The event started about six years ago, focusing on the waterway, but soon covered the surrounding watershed.
"We're able to get a lot of stuff done in a little amount of time," assistant director of the tribal environmental program Laura Mayo said. "Many hands make light work."
To prepare, tribal staff inventoried garbage piles and created packets of maps, directions and photos for volunteers to track down the trash. Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority placed eight large train bin containers in the area and staff would later bring them to the transfer station, sort the garbage from recyclables in a collection that in past years has totaled about 160 cubic yards.
Along with crew members, Walt Lara III, director of the tribe's watershed division, started the effort on Friday with free door-to-door trash pickup. The day netted more than 100 appliances and on Saturday, the team scoured the back roads in a big truck, loading TVs, stoves and other big items that they found.
Despite curbside trash pickup in the area and a transfer station on Alder Camp Road, area residents and out-of-towners ditch trash, appliances, lumber and other garbage on the back roads.
"We've found debit cards, drivers' licenses, all kinds of stuff," Mayo said.
Others move away and leave their garbage and old furniture behind in the woods.
"There's many different reasons. There's economic, there's just social attitude," Mayo said, noting the rural area. "(There's) the perception of lawlessness."
Tribal staff regularly sweeps the region for trash but want residents to call if they need help getting rid of materials.
"A lot of it is because of the poverty," said Tatia Viggers, the tribe's executive secretary.
The traditional salmon lunch may have helped, but the chance to clear eyesores lured most volunteers.
Tribal member and Klamath resident Candy Gibson brought her two grandchildren. "We want to clean up, make it look a lot better here and safer," Gibson said. "We run around out here."
McKinleyville resident Dick Bargy and his wife often travel along the river and camp at RV parks near it.
"Just to contribute something to the area, Klamath River we all enjoy it, figure we'd do a little bit to keep it clean," Bargy said.
A Klamath church group started its workday with a prayer in the rain near a pile of trash.
"It helps us put our faith into practice in a practical way," Pastor Tom Pawloski said after the three lugged an abandoned refrigerator from the woods to the roadside. "Encourages us to care for the community."
Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority director Kevin Hendrick started his day with a mishap while lifting a piece of plywood full of trash into a trash container.
"It cascaded down on my head," Hendrick said. "Baptism by garbage."
Ron Gonzalo joined a boat crew to haul in a refrigerator, tires, orange plastic fences.
"I thought I was gonna do my back in on that fridge," said Gonzalo, who volunteered a few years ago and made sure to stay in town this year to help again. "I remembered how much fun it was and the wonderful food."
The rain didn't ruin it for him.
"You just put your Gore-Tex on and go out and enjoy life," Gonzalo said.