MERLIN — For 25 years now, the good people of Josephine County have turned out on one special day a year to clean up litter and debris along their beloved Rogue River.
This year, Saturday was that day, for the annual Rogue River Cleanup.
"The river takes care of us, and we ought to take care of the river," said Eric Siedlecki, after he, his mother and her husband picked up trash along Merlin-Galice Road near Hellgate Bridge as part of the event.
"We feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful place," his mother, Christi Siedlecki said.
That beautiful place is a little more so thanks to their efforts and the efforts of the other 150 or so volunteers and workers who gave up a chunk of their weekend to help Mother Nature.
While walkers cleaned up along area roads, boaters cleaned shorelines from Whitehorse County Park, a few miles west of Grants Pass, to Grave Creek boat landing, west of Galice — a distance of 25 river miles.
There were lots of beer cans and cigarette butts and plastic bottles to collect. The river left behind several tires. The debris partly filled a couple trash bins and a flatbed truck.
Tonya Lewis and Wade Norman — he's been participating in cleanups for 20 years — hauled out a big piece of hard foam about the size of a tall filing cabinet. It might have come off a floating dock. They also found lots of shoes and a bunch of tennis balls.
"It's alway fun," Lewis said. "You find some weird stuff."
One year, they found the front of a safe and notified authorities. Another time they found a skeleton — probably a coyote.
The Siedleckis, oddly enough, found several small toys strewn along the side of the road.
"It's like a treasure hunt," said Alisha Howard, a Josephine County Parks worker who has been helping out with the cleanups for 12 years. "You never know what you're going to find."
The Parks Department coordinated the event, funded by the local Solid Waste Agency. Bureau of Land Management workers assisted. SOLVE helped with publicity and materials. Volunteers could earn credit toward a free annual parks parking pass. There was food and music afterward, at Indian Mary Park.
Dave Strahan, who floated the river between Almeda and Galice to gather debris, said it was great to get back on the water, but that the river was running high, making landings tricky because of branches.
This year, there were not so many tires, he said, and some logjams had been swept away, possibly by winter's heavy rains.
"A lot of plastic," Strahan noted. "So many plastic drink containers. I'm disappointed people don't pay more attention."