In the first few months of 2015, community members from throughout southern Humboldt County have been rallying to roadsides, ridgetops, creek beds, and campsites, to confront the growing presence of trash in and surrounding their communities. So far, cleanup efforts in the Alderpoint and Garberville-Redway areas have resulted in more than 15,000 pounds of trash being removed from roadsides, campsites, and Eel River tributaries. The individuals leading this ongoing effort are a diverse crew who share the same common vision: a cleaner, healthier Humboldt.
Mike Miller is the veteran of this cast of cleanup leaders. He has been doing cleanups in the area for the last three years, visiting a homeless camp cleanup site, dropping off unused garbage bags to the residents, and picking up the bags they have filled since his last visit. Initially, Miller worried that the cleaned sites would just get trashed again. But so far his “checkups on cleaned sites reveal cooperation from the homeless.” Miller looks forward to “passing the baton” to the next generation of cleanup leaders like Brian St. Clair, Chris “Toph” Anderson, Amy Machado, and Leeana Schultz.
Brian St. Clair, originally from Michigan, arrived in the SoHum area a little over three years ago with a pack on his back and no place to stay. But soon, St. Clair started getting involved with the Mateel Community Center (he is now an active board member) and started working for the Garberville Redway Area Chamber of Commerce as the “cleanup guy”.
The next step in the cleanup effort, according to St. Clair, is to see “more people stepping up and getting involved. Liking something on Facebook is great, but when you have hundreds of likes for a posted cleanup and then five to ten folks showing up at the next one, it makes you wonder.” He would really like to see different people showing up each week, so volunteers don’t get burned out and the movement doesn’t lose momentum.
Chris “Toph” Anderson became involved in the ongoing Southern Humboldt cleanup effort when he saw a video of photos taken of cleanup sites posted in January by Mike Dronkers on the Lost Coast Outpost website. After seeing the video, Anderson had to take action, “You gotta be the positive change!”
For Anderson, a critical part of this movement is to educate and raise community awareness about the harms of illegal dumping, the lack of social services for the homeless, and the cannabis industry’s role in the proliferation of abandoned “trimmigrant” camps. It is key that the community addresses these problems and that more folks develop a strong “pack it in, pack it out” philosophy.
Amy Machado, a school teacher and PacOut Green Team member in the north county, also saw the Dronkers video, and responded by creating the “Eel River cleanup party: power in numbers and the music” Facebook group page as a way to connect with other community members interested in tackling this issue. As she learned about the regular cleanups already underway in Southern Humboldt she realized that her group could give support to existing efforts. The Facebook group had 600 members by the end of its first week. By the second, the Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue group had gotten involved, aiding a steep hillside cleanup near Alderpoint. By the third week, Amy had begun a fundraising campaign, raising roughly $3500 in a little over a month.
Machado hopes that by documenting how much trash is being collected and the costs of removal, their group can get a positive response from county government. Currently, the county only sets aside $2400 to cover community cleanup dump fees, an amount this year’s clean efforts have already exceeded! Like St. Clair, a major goal for Machado is “getting the county on board,” and admits that thus far there hasn’t been much of a response from officials.
In the Alderpoint area, where Leeana Schultz grew up (her family owns the Alderpoint Store, the only general store in the area) illegal dumping has become a major problem. Schultz suggests that much of this has to do with how expensive the town dump can be. According to Schultz, the dump charges “$9 per contractor bag,” too much for community members who can’t find work and “get stuck.”
But, Schultz sees that the recent cleanup effort is “changing the community.” When the cleanup effort started, others caught the bug and started cleaning up their properties and around town. For Schultz, these cleanups present good opportunities for the local youth where they learn there’s no shame in being the “good guy” and “kids can look back and have a sense of pride” in caring for their community.
Together, Mike, Brian, Chris, Amy, and Leeana show us all what positive, motivated individuals can do for a community and for the environment. You too can get involved and make a difference!