As Earth Day approaches, local grass-roots organizations got a head start sprucing up Durango’s riverside parks and pathways, and several people got their hands and feet cold in the process.
In a coincidental but fortunate scheduling of events, two group efforts combined as more than 80 volunteers roamed the banks of the Animas River along the city trail system collecting trash.
Students with the Water Justice Project, a Fort Lewis College registered student organization that is the brainchild of student Maram “Ash” Ashe Alawi, kicked off their day from Rotary Park. The group sent volunteers as far north as 29th Street and as far south as the Durango Dog Park – spanning nearly 30 city blocks.
The group, Alawi said, began last year as a class project but picked up momentum, evolving into something that stuck.
“Our main goal is to increase water literacy,” she said. “Water education, environmental education: The realm of water is tremendous, and there are so many tumultuous issues connected to it. In the West, it’s a huge issue.”
After breaking into teams armed with work gloves and garbage bags, students from across the academic landscape – geology, business, English, sociology, environmental studies – all dispersed along the Animas.
“What is an ocean but a multitude of drops,” Alawi said, quoting author David Mitchell. “Well, we’re a little pond here today. This is a small step, but it’s certainly a step.”
Downriver in Santa Rita Park, Cruise Quenelle and Jordan Sherman were focused, digging a tire out of a mud bank by hand at a popular spot for boaters. Both seasoned kayakers, they were comfortable sifting through the muck and mire of the icy water, numb and red up to their shins.
Other volunteers – with the Southwest Conservation Corps, Animas River Days, Southwest Colorado AmeriCorps alumni – spread north and south. Along with the student organization, they cleaned a several-mile stretch of the river trail.
Chelsea Steck, program administration coordinator with the Conservation Legacy, an umbrella agency that supports conservation groups around the country, called it a duty to take care of the water and the river corridor.
“I live here, too,” she said while filling one of hundreds of bags stuffed with refuse on Sunday. “It’s my responsibility to clean it up. A lot of the volunteers have said that: ‘We enjoy these parks and have to do our part to make them amazing.’”
Determined, Sherman and Quenelle ultimately used a truck with a tow strap to pull the tire form the muck.
Back at Rotary Park, FLC junior Jack Klim called the river a vital component to Durango.
“It’s basically an artery to the heart of this town,” he said.
Students Katie Arnis and Jessie Byrnes found bottles and paper containers just out of the water near the train trestle. Arnis called the river “important to life.” Byrnes called it “a kind of freedom.”
“It’s a little source of liberation,” she said. “Keeping it clean is crucial to maintaining that meaning for us.”