As part of National Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 21, GreenTown Los Altos organized about 45 volunteers to clean Permanente Creek at Heritage Oaks Park in Los Altos. The event began as cub scouts, girl scouts, teens and adults gathered around the Enviroscape watershed model to learn about sources of water pollution. With eyes wide and hands waving to volunteer, children added pollution to our model. Drops of oil (soy sauce) were placed behind the cars and motor boats. Poop (chocolate sprinkles) was placed next to pets. The lawns got a dose of colored sprinkles, representing pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers. And then the rain came. Armed with spray bottles of water, the kids made a downpour. We observed how pollution enters and pollutes the waterways. Poor fish and turtle!
Next, everyone donned gloves, grabbed bags, buckets and trash grabbers. We scoured the creek banks for trash. (We were surprised that there was water in the creek bed, so we kept to the banks.) Some volunteers found a half-buried tire, along with 2 shovels and a rake, which they put to use digging out the tire. It weighed 10 pounds! Everyone brought their finds back to a sorting area where we sorted and weighed each category. We collected over 12 pounds of waste (landfill) and 1 pound of compost. For recycling, we had 4 pounds of plastic, almost 3 pounds of metal, more than 9 pounds of glass and a pound of paper. Our more unusual items were the tire, garden tools and a dead skunk in a plastic bag. (Ewwwww!)
In Santa Clara County, cleanups are coordinated by Valley Water in September, in conjunction with National Coastal Cleanup Day, and in May, in conjunction with National River Cleanup Day. Since 2011, when GreenTown Los Altos adopted this section of Permanente Creek, we have conducted biannual cleanups. Preliminary reports from Valley Water noted a record-breaking 1946 volunteers cleaning 51.7 miles of waterways throughout the county on Sat. They collected 51, 260 pounds of trash, which includes 4,403 pounds of recyclables. (updated results appear on cleanacreek.org).
In addition to educating about and preventing water pollution, one of GreenTown’s goals with creek cleanup is to encourage children to enjoy natural environments. They may play in the park, but usually don’t get near the creek or into the natural landscape. Yesterday, I was delighted to have one little girl tell me, “I had a dream that I fell asleep in a tree.” I asked her how she felt about that, and she responded, “I was soooooo happy!” As I was putting the Enviroscape away, another young person asked “Are we going to do that again?” I told her I was putting it away and asked, “Did you like it?” She responded, “I LOVED it!!!”