Discarded masks, a soggy pair of pants, candy wrappers, Styrofoam packing peanuts and soda cans are among the refuse that people walking or biking the St. Vrain Greenway will see less of, thanks to Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.
On Saturday, roughly 45 volunteers mobilized to pick up trash and beautify a section of the St. Vrain Greenway, a 17.5-mile-long trail that runs alongside the St. Vrain Creek. To comply with Boulder County Public Health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the groups were limited to 25 people. Volunteers wore masks and split into two sections, cleaning roughly 2 miles near the creek behind Left Hand Brewing Company and in the Dickens Farm Nature Area in Longmont.
Wildlands Restoration Volunteers is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental stewardship and organizes volunteer projects to better natural areas across Colorado and Wyoming, with the majority of efforts taking place on the Front Range. The nonprofit, which has operated for 21 years and completes roughly 150 projects a year, recently moved its headquarters from Boulder to Longmont. Wildlands Restoration Volunteers is renovating the former Rainbow Children’s Center in Longmont with the hope that staff, who are working remotely due to the pandemic, will be able to move in this fall.
Morgan Crowley, a program manager with WRV, said this year marks the third time that volunteers have cleaned up the creekside area.
“The quality of the water is essential to everything,” Crowley said. “We are all drinking it, and it all flows together. We are just trying to give back to the community, but also build a sense of stewardship in the community. The more people have (a) hand in restoring places, the more they care.”
For many volunteers, the work was not just a chance to improve the creek corridor, but to connect with others in a time when the coronavirus pandemic has kept people apart.
Carrying bright orange trash bags and trash picker arms, Kevin Loeffler, of Arvada, and Sara Reitz, of Longmont, spent their morning scanning the grass and shady creek banks for trash.
“With COVID, it’s hard to find things to do,” Loeffler said. “It’s been a good opportunity during lockdown to try and find things that help out and also get us outside.”
Loeffler said he hoped to prevent creekside garbage from being washed into the St. Vrain Creek.
“I’m particularly concerned about microplastics, and making sure plastics don’t make their way into our water is important,” he said.
Volunteers Diane and Gerry Mercieca, of Longmont, walk the St. Vrain Greenway every week, often with their dog, Ragnar, in tow.
“We do notice a lot of debris, but we don’t have the equipment to pick it up,” Diane Mercieca said. “We are just trying to do what we can when we can to help out.”
Greg Holman, of Loveland, a WRV volunteer who helped to lead the group near the Left Hand Brewing Company, has helped to clean up the river area every year since the project got its start. He said last year volunteers picked up about six bags of trash in a half-mile stretch east of the brewing company.
Having a chance to better the environment and get to know people who share the same goal is what’s brought him back every year, he said.
“I just enjoy the company with WRV volunteers,” Holman said. “We do make a difference by cleaning up trash off the river, but I think it’s the camaraderie (that brings me back). Hopefully, we make it fun enough for them to come back.”
Over at Dickens Farm Nature Area, volunteers fanned out along the creekside to pick up trash. Using a trash arm, Dave McIntire, of Westminster, pried pieces of garbage from between blades of grass behind Walgreens, near the park.
“My wife and I adopt a highway and compared to that, this is easy,” McIntire said. “It’s a scenic area and it’s nice to watch the bikers go by. This is a good way to get some some exercise and give back by cleaning up.”
This year, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers partnered with Left Hand Brewing Company for the project. After volunteers picked up trash for about two hours, they were invited back to the brewery for free beer.
Not far from McIntire, volunteer Savannah Remmich, of Denver, worked in the shade of a bridge that stretched over the creek. This marked her first project with WRV, and she said she hoped to network with other people whom also share a passion for environmental stewardship.
“I love getting involved with environmental groups,” Remmich said. “It’s a fun way to make a positive impact. I just want to leave this place better than I found it.”
How to volunteer
Wildlands Restoration Volunteers lists upcoming volunteer opportunities and a signup section on its website at wlrv.org.