Teaming Up: A River Not Forgotten, Eagle Scouts
High School students gather in the San Gabriel River Rangher District of the Angeles National Forest to clean up garbage, bust up rock dams, and block of dangerous foot trails.
The River Not Forgotten and Eagle Candidate Jack Team Up
Today is May 19th, and it's another glorious sun-filled day to volunteer to work hard in the Angeles National Forest, working to improve the health of our Forest environment and the quality of the water that we drink down in the cities below.
Jack's Eagle Scout Project and Amelia Everett's Community Project came together and worked perfectly together in the San Gabriel River Ranger District along the East Fork Road of the Angeles National Forest. The final results: Something like 20 illegal rock dams were busted open to allow fish like the Santa Ana Sucker to move freely along the river, three illegal access trailed were blocked and filled in with rocks, and 32 large bags of garbage were collected and hauled out of the riverbed -- a good day's work for some 30 young volunteers.
The day started out early for me -- up at five in the morning to get my bicycle repaired enough to get me to the Ranger's Office on time. Amelia -- a local High School student -- and Lois (USFS) were waiting for me at the Forest Service District Office and by the time I parked my freshly-repaired bicycle and walked in to the Office (ten minutes early by my reckoning) the two were grabbing their stuff, ready to head up the mountain to Rincon Station.
Most of the other volunteers met us at the Rincon Fire Station along the North Fork of the San Gabriel Highway (also known as Highway 39) which heads North from the City of Azusa, California, up to Crystal Lake and then Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2.) The Ranger Station there is a neat little building about 11 miles up into the mountains across the highway from the Environmental Education Center (which hosts many thousands of young students for a variety of educational events every year.)
While Amelia's group of volunteers were going over safety issues with Lois and covering what the effort would be for the day, I waited for members of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders who also had a day of trail building scheduled for the day. To be sure it was a bit of an unusual morning for me since -- despite my stupid yapping mouth -- while waiting for Ben to show up I managed to avoided getting my lip deservedly split open by a friend. Lesson learned: Trust your friends, Fred, and try not to be such an idiot.
During the safety discussion Jack and his Eagle Project volunteers arrived and joined in on the safety meeting. When the meeting was about done many volunteers went to examine the poison oak growing in the Station's yard and I once again thoughtfully suggested that they pick it up and pass it around so that they'll know what it looks like so they can avoid it ("Poison Oak: It's No Joke" -- but I still find it funny! Maybe because I'm nearly immune to the stuff by now.)
From Rincon Station we piled in to a few vehicles (there were about 30 of us) and we drove to the work site. The area we were to work on is a two-mile stretch of river East of Camp Williams along the East Fork Road, and though it's not the most heavily trashed area of the river this section has a great many illegal rock dams as well as a disturbing amount of litter and garbage -- this despite the never-ending work that the Forest Service does cleaning up countless miles of road and river out here.
An "easy up"® was easily installed to provide a bit of shade for the cold water station along the road and then work began.
The "coyote trails" that are used to gain access to the river from the road are often dangerous and always illegal. They're created by people who don't wish to take the time to walk to the official trails that lead down to the river. These trails cause erosion and safety hazards that can result in medical calls that the fire crews in these mountains have to respond to so some effort is made to fill in or block these trails.
The rock dams cause their own set of problems, not the least of which is that when water pools up behind them that raises the temperature of the water which allows algae to grow which -- if it grows too much -- chokes off the other life in the pool. In addition to the water getting too warm, these rock dams trap fish -- which includes the endangered Santa Ana Sucker -- behind them, blocking off their progress down stream and reducing the genetic diversity among the species.
And of course the pollution caused by people who love to dump their garbage on the ground after a day of picnicking, camping, or smoking crack cocaine and whatnot along the riverbed is another major problem. Some sections of the river are clean and look good since they've had volunteers come clean them up in the past six months or so while other sections of the river are truly disgusting since the wind conspires to collect garbage in them.
Since dam busting is fun and the water is cool, I joined the dam busting effort after helping to drag logs out of the river and up to the coyote trail blocking effort (I actually do work at these efforts; I don't just stand there with a camera taking it easy and sipping cold diet cola during the day, honest I don't. Well mostly I don't.)
One particular circle of rocks needed attention: Fish living in a small circle of water could not leave the pool. Jack gathered three or four volunteers and we opened a channel for water to enter the pool and another channel was opened to allow the fish to leave. Some of the volunteers picked out rocks and examined them for fish eggs before either discarding them on the bank or setting them gently back in to the water.
When we were done, the circle of water looked great: Cold water and other fish could enter while at the same time the fish that had been trapped in there and the fish who would later hatch from the eggs could now leave the small pool.
Lois continued to work with the general visitor public from time to time since people would come up and ask questions for a variety of things. I got to talk with a guy who was there in his tent with another individual and he told me that from time to time he helps collect garbage in along the river since he spends a fair amount of time in the area.
One thing that we're often asked is when the next litter removal project is by people who wish to volunteer. Lois suggested that people call her District Office -- which is a good idea. I think that I should start putting proposed schedules up on this web site as well so that people can find the dates and times for future trash removal and dam busting projects.
The larger number of volunteers working on the trash pick up concentrated their efforts along the water and then they started encompassing the whole riverbed from canyon wall to canyon wall, collecting trash in to their plastic bags.
It was great watching so many young kids doing hard work to help their environment. Lois noted aloud that these National Forests belong to all of the people and that the water that flows from these rivers and side canyons up here comprise about 80 percent of the drinking water we enjoy down below.
Having High School students come up to do hard -- but fun! -- work in these mountains renewed my hope that the future of America has at least some good hands to carry the nation onwards. I could wish that everyone cared enough for the environment and their National Forests to do so much, but I'm glad that there's at least some who do (after all, us older volunteers won't last forever -- at least our poor old, pained backs won't last much longer!)
I told a number of volunteers that they got to keep whatever they found since there was a lot of valuable garbage here: dozens of old shoes, two dozens of old socks, plastic bags by the arm full, somebody's bra, someone else's shirt and underwear, hundreds of broken beer bottles, nameless lumps of plastic and polystyrine, a small fortune in recyclable beer cans, disgusting wads of shit-encrusted toilet paper, gelatinous, quivering piles of rotting who-knows-what by the bucketful... Two miles of garbage was dragged out of the riverbed (If anyone found Ben's lost 1971 quarter, they never told me about it.)
A group of volunteers dragged out a soaked canvas tarp, it looked like, which must have weighed about sixy pounds. These heavy bags of trash were tied to a rope and then hauled up the canyon wall to the road above where Alan and a number of other volunteers waited to collect the bagged garbage for later pick up.
I found a television antenna that goes on top of a house; an antenna that looked to me to be in perfectly working condition, coming with its own cable which also looked in perfect condition. It was a bit rusted but it looked like it would still work.
We tossed that puppy on to the trash also but only after Lois picked it up, held it above her, and told me she was picking up the BBC in London or something -- I was laughing too hard to hear exactly what she said about who she was picking up on the old antenna.
Toward the end of the day we concentrated on litter removal. Alan met me at the top of the canyon wall along East Fork and put a trash bag in one of my hands and a "picker" in the other hand and suggested that I give trash picking up a try.
I don't like picking up litter unless I can be reasonably assured that I'll also find money that someone has lost in among the usual cigarette butts, beer bottles, used toilet paper, used condoms, plastic bags, and other garbage one usually finds along any road in Los Angeles County.
The "easy up" was taken down (just as easily) and packed away, then Amelia, Lois, and I said "good bye" to the few remaining volunteers who had not already left and then we got in to our own vehicle and headed for Rincon Station to borrow a large truck so that we could come back and pick up the bags of litter that had been accumulated.
It didn't take long to hunt up the keys to the largest flat bed panel truck that we could find and then we crammed in to the front seat and drove back to the work site. Some of us counted 32 bags of trash, others counted 34. What was sure was that we got a good haul of garbage out of the riverbed and that's a good day's work for Jack's Eagle Scout Project and Amelia's River Not Forgotten -- something both of them should be proud of since it was good stuff.
We were all exhausted by the time we got back to the District Office, what was left of me climbed back on to my bicycle, Lois and Amelia remained to finish whatever paperwork was left for the day. I rolled wobbly down the street toward the closest Del Taco®, limped to the counter, asked for a burrito and a gallon of Diet Coke®, then passed out while waiting for my order to arrive.
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