Hundreds of Santa Clarita residents convened on a large dirt lot behind a shopping center on Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country Saturday morning to join the annual effort of cleaning up the Santa Clara River.
“This is our primary event for the year,” said Darin Seegmiller, the environmental services manager for the city of Santa Clarita, which has organized this event for 26 years and collected nearly a half-million pounds of trash over the years.
Seegmiller said the event usually draws a crowd of around 1,400 volunteers, though he said he felt more people turned out this year to clean up a section of the riverbed from State Route 14 to Whites Canyon Road.
“The weather has been perfect,” he said. “Often, we have to deal with pretty hot weather.”
Weather conditions, he said, only partly contributed to the increased turnout Saturday.
“We didn’t do this last year because of COVID,” he said, noting the city instead organized a neighborhood cleanup last year to comply with pandemic-related restrictions.
For the 2021 River Rally, Seegmiller said “pent-up demand” was a motivating factor for turnout.
That demand was reflected in the number of people who registered to volunteer. That number was around 1,600, according to Tess Simgen, a volunteer engagement supervisor with the city.
“That’s the biggest number we’ve had,” she said, noting the river cleanup also provided an educational opportunity for people of all ages.
Valencia High School students Jaeda Rajpibul, Sarah Park, Anjali Krishnan and Mehak Sachdeva participated in the cleanup.
Rajpiibul said she saw the community come together Saturday morning.
“I saw people helping each other out to carry big amounts of trash,” she said, noting that her friend assisted a woman remove a carpet from the riverbed.
Park said she didn’t expect the cleanup to be as big as it was.
“I thought it was going to be a small event,” she said. “I feel like everybody from every school of all age groups, they all came here.”
The group of friends picked up shirts, credit cards, cigarette butts, plastic and a lot of glass, they said.
“We saw so many different things that I honestly didn’t even expect to ever see there,” said Sachdeva, who visited the booths of various environmental groups at the event. “I didn’t know so much was going on to animals. That was really shocking.”
In talking with people at the exposition, Krishnan said she learned that a student club at her school was affiliated with one of the environmental groups.
“We learned how it’s not just a bunch of little efforts,” she said of the work to protect the environment. “It’s one big effort that all of those little efforts come into play in.”
Jayden Swanson participated in the cleanup with his Cub Scout pack. He said he came across beer cans, buried sandbags, shirts and a lot of glass.
“My dad said he saw a lizard and I had some fun with my friends,” he said. “We kept going in and out of the bushes looking for trash.”
Swanson collected a lot of trash.
“At the end, my bag ripped open so I was like, ‘I’m tired. I have to put this in the pile,” he said.
Santa Clarita resident Glenn Braggs and his son Solomon said they also had a fun experience participating in the cleanup.
“There were a lot of really good people out here who were really interested in keeping the community clean,” he said, noting a man who explained the impact of trash in the Santa Clara River on Ventura. “The (cleanup) we’re doing up here, (the trash) doesn’t get washed down to where he is. And I’d never really thought of it from that perspective.”
Seegmiller said he hoped that many participants Saturday had thoughts like those expressed by Braggs.
“I’m super grateful for all the people that come out, but it’s also a cautionary tale to folks to not litter,” he said.
The trash that’s found in the river, Seegmiller said, was carried there by a network of storm drains.
“You put something into the street, it goes in the gutter, water carries it from the gutter into the river and then, ultimately, from the river out to the ocean,” he said. “So, this really is, I hope, for people an eye-opener.”