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Down by the Riverside

Bear Creek ran high and fast Saturday, but that didn't stop Dylan Crandall, 18, from wading in to drag out a construction zone sign and the sign's metal base, caught on a rock under the rushing water.

The South Medford High School senior got a little damp and dirty, but the creek through the center of town looked cleaner after he and other volunteers collected trash from its banks and bed as part of Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism's "Down by the Riverside" spring cleanup.

Crandall headed a crew from South's Student Eco-Awareness or SEA Club, which is part of his senior project. A group of middle school students doing community service as part of preparation for a European tour with People to People pitched in.

In all 58 volunteers fanned out from Hawthorne Park to spruce up the creekside. Groups collected litter and larger garbage, such as the sign Crandall found warning of a flagger ahead, four tires, an empty violin case, and six abandoned shopping carts, some wreathed in stinky green moss. One crew tested water quality and others trekked into creekside neighborhoods to post storm drains with reminders that what goes down the drain ends up in the nearby creek.

The Bear Creek cleanup, organized by Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners, was one of eight such events across Jackson and Josephine counties Saturday.

Across Oregon and a swath of southwestern Washington, work parties hit 350 locations to gather trash, remove invasive species and improve habitat. Last year the cleanup drew 12,000 volunteers who removed about 330,000 pounds of garbage and more than 265,000 pounds of non-native plants, the program's state coordinator Sara Ryan reported in advance of this year's event.

Madison Messmer, 14, of Medford, was at last year's Bear Creek cleanup with a People to People student ambassadors group and returned this year.

"It was fun," she said. "When we do People to People, we have to give back to the community, so we wanted to clean up and make this place pretty."

She and several other teens who will travel to France, Italy and Greece in July, picked up litter along the Bear Creek Greenway through Hawthorne Park.

"There's a lot of trash, but it's mostly cigarette butts," said Jacob Wimmer, who deftly used a grabbing tool to pick up the rubbish.

"It's really pretty here," said Katie Bicego, 13, of Yreka, who made her first visit to Medford's creekside as part of the travel group. "I'm glad we can help clean it up."

After picking their way through the park, the teens joined other crews on the opposite bank to haul mounds of trash surrounding a homeless encampment under the Fourth Street Bridge.

"Everyone got in there and worked," said Dick Barbara, Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners' president.

In all, volunteers collected 3 cubic yards of trash that couldn't be recycled and about 1 cubic yard of recyclable material, he said. Shopping carts, the construction sign and a bunch of traffic cones, as well as a real estate sign were all returned to their rightful owners.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or at aburke@mailtribune.com

Jacob Wimmer, 13, left, Madison Messmer, 14, and Katie Bicego, 13, clean up garbage along Bear Creek in Medford Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch