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This year, I participated in the Nisqually River Clean Up for the first time. The Nisqually River Clean Up is an annual event to 1. Heighten awareness and appreciation of the Nisqually River; 2. Celebrate the river’s unique attributes; 3. Foster stewardship of the river; and 4. Promote the Nisqually River Water Trail Plan and Recommendations. This wonderful event is sponsored by the Washington Kayak Club, Washington Recreational River Runners, and Paddle Trails Canoe Club. The event was supported by the Nisqually River Council, American Whitewater, American Rivers, American Canoe Association, Thurston County Public Works, LeMay Pacific Disposal, City of Centralia, City of Yelm, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Nisqually Land Trust. That’s A LOT of love for the Nisqually River!

As you can probably tell by the list of sponsors and supporters, this is a well organized river clean up. The river clean up occurred simultaneously on two sections of the Nisqually River, 1. a 9-mile section of class II-III whitewater from McKenna Park to Nisqually Park and 2. a 8-mile section of class I-II whitewater from Nisqually Park to the 6th Avenue S.E. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife water access site. If you haven’t experienced the Nisqually River, it’s a beautiful river in Washington state, a little over an hour drive from Seattle. Following the clean up, we all got together for a delicious grill out at McKenna Park. I had certainly developed a strong appetite after hauling mountains of trash from the river.

This river clean up was fun, rewarding, and challenging. It’s always sad to see trash littering the riverbanks and it’s devastating to see the MASSIVE objects we were able to pull from the river. Giant pieces of metal, fences, tires, a newspaper vending machine, and even a vehicle (which we were unable to pull out). Some items required a trash bag whereas others required teamwork and a whole lot of mechanical advantage. Kayakers were able to maneuver into tight eddies and get hard to collect trash, rafters were able to haul out the big stuff, and canoes loaded up like the back of a pick up truck.

I am so thankful for Jackson Kayak encouraging the Whitewater Team and Exploration Team to get involved in river clean ups in 2019. While there are tons of paddling festivals emerging, there seem to be a dwindling number of river clean ups. …but the Nisqually River Clean Up had large participation this year. Canoeists, kayakers, and rafters came together to make a difference and beautify the waterways that we all love to share. There were even quite a few new paddlers who were able to hop on a raft and join in on the fun! I saw parents showing their children the importance of stewardship, a community rallying around a river, and an endless supply of positivity.

A few highlights. While on the river, one of the paddlers called out, “Anyone need a shopping cart?” …and yes, there was a shopping cart in the river. At one particular stop on the river, I witnessed a big crew of rafters taking apart and hauling a huge section of fence that was in the river. These people saw a challenge and took it head-on and were able to do the “impossible” and haul it out. Another special moment was witnessing all of the helping hands from non-paddlers once we got off the water. They helped us to unload our overflowing paddlecrafts. So much love poured out of these people and I want to thank them so much for being a vital part of the event!

Following the Nisqually River Clean Up, I felt energized. I have experienced so many wonderful moments from rivers and have certainly not given back to the river as much as it has given to me. …but I am working to re-pay the debt. While this may have been my first Nisqually River Clean Up, it will certainly not be the last. I hope you’ll join me at the Nisqually River Clean Up in 2020!

Photos credit: Lyles Larkin