30th ‘Johnson Creek Clean-up’ goes forward, despite coronavirus

Find out how volunteers, including many in outer East Portland, were able safely to help clean up Johnson Creek this summer, even in the era of COVID-19 …

Starting out our tour of Johnson Creek Clean-up sites at Errol Heights Park in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood, this group of volunteers waves a greeting, before they head up the trail and get to work.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

August 22nd was a pleasant Saturday morning for people to get out in nature, and what those people were doing was helping clean up the areas around Johnson Creek at numerous sites – from near the confluence with the Willamette River in Milwaukie, on out beyond the Gresham city limits.

This was possible due to some “out of the box” thinking by the staff of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC) – accomplished while strictly following State and Multnomah County COVID-19 coronavirus guidelines.

Ready with backup sanitation items and supplies, we found JCWC Volunteer Program Manager Courtney Beckel, and Creek Clean-up Co-coordinator Melanie Klym.

“This, our 30th annual ‘Creek Clean-up’, has typically been done with volunteers working in the water in late summer, because the creek levels are lower; and, it’s in the State ‘in-water work window’ where we can be in Johnson Creek pulling out trash and debris, while not endangering fish eggs and fish nests,” explained JCWC Creek Clean-up Co-coordinator Melanie Klym at one of the sites.

“But responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of putting teams into the water, where it might be challenging to keep them six feet apart – especially when removing larger trash items from the Creek, such as lounge chairs and mattresses – we made the decision to do a land-based clean-up, working in parks that border the creek and along the Springwater Corridor,” Klym told East Portland News.

Out along the Springwater Corridor Trail, volunteers pick up trash.

Lents Neighborhood Livability Association member David Potts volunteers in the event, and is equipped for safely picking up “sharps” left on the creek bank.

Thus, the year’s cleanup was strictly limited, with teams of ten people or less at each of the sites. “While we’ll all be helping, by cleaning areas around the creek, we’re all a little sad we’re not doing the kickoff and the big volunteers’ lunch this year; so, we’re missing the community celebration aspect of the day,” Klym sadly pointed out.

In addition to volunteers preening the banks of the creek, others are helping out driving from site to site, retrieving bags of refuse for disposal.

These trash pickers, some of them from the Ground Score Association, work their way along the Springwater Corridor Trail.

“It’s still helping Johnson Creek, because picking up trash along side the banks keeps it from eventually getting into the water, and therefore reduces hazards for wildlife – things that fly, walk, and swim, beyond just the fish,” Klum remarked. “And there are also opportunities to pick up discarded paint, batteries, and chemicals, which, when it rains, might wash into the creek and degrade the water quality.”

It’s been a challenge, organizing this year’s clean-up, acknowledged the event’s co-coordinator and JCWC Volunteer Program Manager Courtney Beckel. “It seems like every few days, we’ve run into a new logistical hurdle – while making sure that we’re following all the regulations by all the governmental bodies, and providing the necessary personal protection equipment.”

Out in the Lents neighborhood, these volunteers are cleaning in the Beggars Tick Natural Area.

Picking up bags of collected refuse is Portland Parks and Recreation Johnson Creek Watershed Stewardship Coordinator Susan Hawes.

Even so, the cleanup was a success; two trash drop boxes and two metal recycling boxes – containing a total of 2.17 tons of refuse – were collected, and everyone was safe.

For more information about the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, and to learn about their volunteer opportunities, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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