Byron Cowley

Chilliwack moves mountains of trash

Hundreds of people spent some of the weekend bent over, picking up other people's garbage along Chilliwack's rivers and mountainsides.

Braving the pouring rain and low temperatures, hundreds of people spent some of the weekend bent over, picking up other people’s garbage along Chilliwack’s rivers and mountainsides. The city can breathe easier as at least 13 tonnes of waste have been lifted off its shoulders and brought to the landfill.

A record 250 people came to the cleanup at Chilliwack-Vedder River, one of three cleanups that weekend. There are usually half as many volunteers at the annual April event. Chris Gadsden, director at the Chilliwack Vedder River Cleanup Society, chalks up the event’s success to increased public attention.

“People are more and more concerned about the environment. Environment issues are bigger than they used to be…People want to see a pristine area. They don’t want to see pollution,” said Gadsden.

One school group from Sardis Secondary brought 20-30 volunteers alone.

Several local political celebrities came out to help, including mayor Sharon Gaetz, Liberal candidate Laurie Throness, NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony, and B.C. Excalibur Party candidate Michael Halliday.

All in all, volunteers removed about 4.3 tons of garbage from the riverside.

Over at the Fraser River, at the end of Gill Road in Rosedale, over 60 volunteers managed to collect 5.2 tonnes of heavy waste, including construction material, old mattresses, and appliances, with the help of some heavy-duty equipment.

The Vancouver-based environmental advocacy organization Fraser Riverkeeper organized the cleanup, and joined with local volunteers for the effort.

“I love the river, I love the beauty of this location. I think it’s important to keep the river beautiful,” Chilliwack resident Graeme Isbister explained why he comes out for the cleanup every year. “I also love the community aspect of it…You hear horrible stories about what happens in the world, and you come down here, and this is the other side of that.”

Heavy metal waste along the river is especially dangerous for the river’s fish populations when it washes into the water and eventually the ocean.

“It’s a huge worldwide issue right now. This fight here, is where we have to do our part to stop killing the ocean that way,” said campaign director Tyee Bridge.

The group is looking at ways to prevent garbage buildup at the popular recreational fishing and camping spot, such as installing signs and possibly surveillance cameras.

“I want us to move out of the garbage pickup business, and into restoration,” said Bridge.

The RBC Foundation was also on site to donate $5,000 to Fraser Riverkeeper from the three Chilliwack and Sardis RBC bank branches.

Rosedale resident Lisa Ballam has been collecting the Fraser’s riverside waste for over a decade on her own, and has spent thousands of dollars on dumping fees.

“We are ruining our Mother Earth,” she said. “I grew up here. This is my river.”

Ballam is considering opening up a Chilliwack chapter of Fraser Riverkeeper.

Up on Vedder Mountain, about 50 mountain bikers, ATV drivers, and trail runners united to pick up 3.9 tonnes of waste off the roads and trails. Steve Urusky, from the Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association, said that he has been noticing a decrease is the amount of garbage dumped on the mountain, as more and more people are using the trails and keeping vigilant.

When all picked up, the rubbish still needs to be sorted according to scrap metal, recyclables, and waste, before the dump can accept it, adding yet more work hours for the volunteers.