An army of plastic bag-toting volunteers wearing gloves filled the Los Angeles River basin in Long Beach on Saturday during the 28th annual cleanup of the environmentally troubled concrete channel.
Some use a rope to descend a concrete channel to get to the lower part of the river, which is normally off-limits to hikers and residents. They walked around rocks and plants and homeless encampments and picked up trash that included shopping carts, rags, bed frames and all sorts of ancient river debris.
Friends of Los Angeles River, in operation for 28 years and a major sponsor of the event, drew volunteers, students and older local participants committed to the environmental cause. Shelly Backlar, vice president of Friends of LA River and resident of the San Fernando Valley, felt emotional about her first time at the wetlands in Long Beach.
“It is humbling to see people giving selflessly of their time and our focus is on finding the nexus between humans and habitat,” she said. “If people are aware and participate, we win.”
Southern California Edison, sponsor of education and cleanup for many years, also plays a major role in the annual event by funding education initiatives and providing resources for cleanups. Los Angeles 2024, a sponsor of getting the Olympics back to Los Angeles, also participated.
“The river brings people and wildlife together,” said Omes Delcampo, a Friends of Los Angeles River member. “We build awareness through conversations, word of mouth and social media, so we need to utilize all tools to get people out — because we need to be aware of threats, [we need to] keep doing, keep taking action, get out here and do something about it.”
In 1992, Long Beach conservationist Lenny Arkansas moved out of his boat to Cerritos Bahia Marina and started cleaning the waterway. He said during our interview that he continued cleaning for the next six years until satisfied that the Marina was in good condition.
“The event is significant; it is a bunch of wonderful people caring about the Los Angeles river; their efforts keep the wetlands clean until the rains come a year later,” Arkansas said.
He said the event draws more and more people every year and noted that the new generation of volunteers are more enthusiastic and enthused about the environment. They are eager about helping the environment and it shows it in the time they are willing to give to cleanup events.
Arkansas says that, if given unlimited access to city officials, he would ask for the enforcement of responsibility of business and homeowners to clean their curbsides, the largest source of runoff into the rivers.
Pham Lee, a UCLA student and member of Alpha Omega fraternity, said the river is not doing so well.
“They found a prisoner’s shoe and hat with Social Security emblem; makes you wonder what goes on down there,” Lee said. “It was really hot [during the cleanup], but it was meaningful.”
Meanwhile, a conscious musical troupe of volunteers, Tone and Georgia, played spirited music for the volunteers. Jake Menta, bassist, said the band has played for Friends of Los Angeles River for a few years and is committed to environmental issues.
Wyatt Garrett, trombonist with Tone and Georgia, feels that their efforts are good but many are not contributing so, the results don’t always show.
There are cleanups happening around the Los Angeles area for the next two weeks with info available at folar.org/cleanup/sites.