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A cleaner Chena: Dedicated boaters volunteer annually to clean up waterways

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Posted: Saturday, May 26, 2012 8:29 am

FAIRBANKS - If you’ve lived in Fairbanks for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with the mess that is revealed every spring when the snow melts and a winter’s worth of litter is exposed. You’re also probably familiar with Fairbanks Cleanup Day, in which thousands of volunteers work together to remove the litter from our roads and neighborhoods.

What you might not know is that an equally dedicated, albeit smaller, group of volunteers performs a similar task on the waterways of Fairbanks every year.

Fairbanks Paddlers, which bills itself as “a group of non-motorized boaters dedicated to having fun and being safe on Alaska’s waters,” has been cleaning the stretch of the Chena River between Graehl Landing and Pioneer Park since the mid-1990s. Brad Snow,

one of the founding members of the group, explained the inception of the annual effort.

“The Chena Cleanup was originally a onetime project, the idea generated by (fellow founding member) Les Graves’ fertile imagination, in 1995. The next year a few of us decided to do it again, and while on the river — or in the brush — someone suggested we do it annually to coincide with the town cleanup,” Snow said.

This year’s cleanup took place May 16. Nineteen volunteers in 10 boats removed 380 pounds of litter from the river channel, according to cleanup coordinator

Alan Batten. The average haul is about 300 pounds to 350 pounds, while the largest amount of litter removed was 440 pounds in 2007, Batten said.

Although the majority of river litter is made up of items such as plastic bags, Styrofoam and “a little bit of aluminum,” club members find more exotic items from time to time.

“From notes from previous years I see that we’ve picked up an empty 55-gallon drum — I wish we had a photo of that in a canoe! — a couple of bottles of beer with beer still in them, several bicycles — some in relatively good shape — shopping carts, tarps and a half toilet,” Batten said.

The cleanup of Fairbanks waterways continues throughout the season, with club members meeting informally in late summer for another sweep of the river. In addition, the Fairbanks Storm Water Advisory Committee sponsors an annual Stream Cleanup Day focused on cleaning up Noyes Slough

as well as the same downtown stretch of the Chena covered by the Fairbanks Paddlers. That group will meet from 9 a.m. to noon June 12. Volunteers are welcome, and interested people can contact Jackson Fox at 459-6758.

Even though the two groups’ cleanup days are less than a month apart, volunteers for the upcoming event need not worry there won’t be any litter to pick up.

“The stretch of the Chena along First Avenue gets a lot. People sit on the bank and throw bottles down. I suspect they’ll find some stuff,” Batten said.

Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7590.

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