The Kern River got a lot of love this National Clean Up Day with two groups picking up trash along different sections of the river on Saturday.
In Bakersfield, about 40 volunteers with Bring Back the Kern, a nonprofit group dedicated to getting water flowing on a more regular basis through town, cleared away trash under the bridge at Mohawk Street. This is the second year the group has participated in National Clean Up Day. It has held other clean ups along the river for Earth Day and other events. After its April event, in which Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh participated, the city dedicated $2 million to ongoing clean up of the Kern River Parkway.
The haul Saturday was about 75 of the largest Hefty bags stuffed full, along with a lot of bulky items that couldn’t be bagged, said Kelly Damian, Brink Back the Kern’s riverbed clean up organizer.
“Some of it was regular park use litter,” she said. “But, honestly, a lot of it was from a disheartening disrespectful use of that space. So, we’re excited to change that culture. Because the river isn’t something to be treated that way.”
Bring Back the Kern is planning another clean up October 30 from 9 a.m. to noon, location to be determined.
“People love cleaning up trash,” Damian said. “And every cyclist and jogger that came by was so appreciative.” The group also had postcards available for people to sign in support of the City of Bakersfield’s bid to get water that is potentially available on the river so it can run it down the river. That proceeding is ongoing at the State Water Resources Control Board.
Further upriver, about 100 volunteers with the Kern River Conservancy picked the riverbank and surrounding areas clean at seven popular campsites from the mouth of the Kern River Canyon up to Lake Isabella. They also painted over graffiti left on boulders and the canyon’s walls. This was the group’s seventh year participating in National Clean Up day, said conservancy Executive Director and Founder Gary Ananian.
The typical haul is about 2,500 pounds of trash, mostly picnic and camping leftovers, he said. He wasn’t sure what to expect this year after life was turned upside down during the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and closure of California’s national forests over this past Labor Day holiday.
“We had been seeing a lot of improvement,” in terms of less trash left along the river, Ananian said. The group had been doing regular clean ups, plus a lot of outreach, including through bilingual volunteers, to achieve the conservancy’s mission to turn campers into stewards.
“Then Covid destroyed all of that,” Ananian said. The area was overrun with campers, many of them first timers, during 2020. And when the forests shut down earlier this month, people came to the river anyway and camped in spots without available trash cans or bathrooms.
“It was the wild west up here,” Ananian said.
On Saturday, the volunteers were ready for anything.
“We came up just for this,” said Chris Wilson, of Los Angeles, who was accompanied by his daughter Bella Wilson, friend Krista Goodsitt and dog Duncan. “We come to the river a lot and this was a good excuse for another trip.”