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Bear Creek cleanup

Dick Barbara and his annual army of creekside cleaner-uppers can find some pretty unusual stuff

A stroll along the banks of Bear Creek can yield the strangest kinds of debris.

The regular shopping carts are blas? to Dick Barbara and his army of volunteers who give Bear Creek's Medford stretch an annual spring cleaning.

Each year they find even more intriguing items like tax returns, check books, stolen purses, rusting bikes, and even the occasional engine block.

One year we found a little marijuana plant in a pot, Barbara says. After the flood in '97, we found enough sheet metal to build a car.

And who knows what creekside leavings Barbara's volunteers will find Saturday, when the annual Bear Creek Cleanup is Medford's answer to Oregon's Down by the Riverside stream cleanups conducted this weekend across the state.

— Volunteers are broken into crews, given garbage bags so they can scour the banks to pick up all the junk accumulated over the past year.

Most of the garbage is run-of-the-mill trash, like aluminum cans and fast-food wrappers.

But under some bush or wedged beneath some rock will be the truly odd find that will win a volunteer a prize for the weirdest find for 2004.

One year it was a solid rubber tire to a 1910 pickup truck.

There's been a lot of weird stuff like dolls and doll heads, says Clayton Gillette, a Griffin Creek school teacher and president of the Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners. Last year I found a jelly bean. One jelly bean. How one jelly bean makes it down a creek, I don't know.

Everyone ' from retired fly-fishers to a Brownie troop ' plans to don decent boots and gloves, then meet at Hawthorne Park to register at 8:30 a.m.

De-trashing Bear Creek's downtown Medford stretch dates back to the 1980s, when volunteers organized for an annual May clean-up. The venture since has joined with Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism, and SOLV now helps organize more than 15,000 volunteers at more than 400 clean-up sites in Oregon and southwest Washington.

Barbara, a McLoughlin Junior High School science teacher, moved here 10 years ago and was immediately drawn to Bear Creek. Instantly, the amount of litter disturbed and inspired him.

I was disgusted with what I saw under the bridges, says Barbara, 49, of Medford. It was like, wow, here's a real need.

So he began volunteering in cleanups, eventually taking over their organization.

His passion for Bear Creek has never waned. But the disgust, he says, is gone.

I've gotten beyond the judgment part of it, Barbara says. Now, it's 'just do the job.'

The job generally doesn't require getting into the creek. Most volunteers stick to the banks, while a few members of the Medford-based Rogue Fly Fishers Association don waders and dig around in the stream.

Often, bank crews will stumble into homeless camps, and volunteers are instructed to be respectful of them, Barbara says.

We tidy them up, but we don't dismantle them, Barbara says. Everyone needs something over their heads.

Gillette says the overall trash load in Bear Creek has decreased dramatically since the clean-ups began in the 1980s. But fast-food restaurants hovering creekside still generate a lot of trash, he says.

In recent years, crews also have focused on the pulling of non-native vegetation that can out-compete native vegetation for water and space along streams.

Gillette says the most evasive non-native plant targeted in the cleanup is loosestrife, a yellow-flowering flora that can choke a creekside.

When the volunteers are done Saturday, they will be part of an estimated 15,000 volunteers who will help rid Oregon's waterways of more than 1.3 million pounds of litter and 100 tons of non-native plants.

And more shopping carts than a grocery store.

I've never figured out how all those shopping carts get there, Barbara says.

Other cleanups scheduled Saturday There are several Down by the Riverside cleanups planned Saturday in Southern Oregon, and volunteers are still welcomed. The cleanups all begin with registration at 8:30 a.m., with work crews starting at 9 a.m.

Cave Junction '

Trail maintenance and litter pickup at Forks State Park, Grayback Campground, Caves Creek Campground and Chinquapin Campground. Call (541)592-4440.

Central Point '

Invasive plant removal, litter pickup and tree planting at and around the Central Point access for the Bear Creek Greenway. Call 840-8231.

Medford '

Removing invasive species, litter and debris pickup along Bear Creek in downtown Medford. Volunteers meet at the Hawthorne Park Pavilion. Call 482-8592.

Rogue River '

Painting park-entry booth and curbs, litter pickup and debris clean-up at Valley of the Rogue State Park. Call 582-1118, extension 23.

Shady Cove '

Vegetation planting and community center beautification at the Upper Rogue Community Center. Call 878-2702.

Trail '

Invasive plant removal, planting and painting at Casey State Park. Call 560-3334.

White City '

Cleanup of the area at TouVelle State Park. Call 582-1118, extension 23

A plastic six-pack holder adorns shoots of grass on the banks of Bear Creek in Medford, one item out of thousands that volunteers will pick up Saturday in an annual clean-up of the Medford section of the creek. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven