The Elk River near Fernie.

The Elk River near Fernie.

Elk River: Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere

Celebrate World Rivers Day with ERA’s annual Shoreline Cleanup

The Elk River is an iconic ribbon of life essential to the Elk Valley, and after this hot dry summer it’s been heavily used by people. Unfortunately, where we are, trash seems to follow. This year, the Elk River Alliance (ERA) asks residents to celebrate World Rivers Day by giving back to our “ribbon of blue” and collecting shoreline trash.

The cleanup—scheduled for 10 AM on September 26th— is part of the ERA’s annual effort to decrease the litter within the Elk River. Meeting places will be in Fernie (Annex Park), Sparwood (Leisure Centre), and Elkford (Recreation Centre).

“Litter isn’t just unsightly, it can be mistaken by wildlife as food, and add pollution to our waterways,” says Chad Hughes, ERA’s Executive Director.

Last year, despite COVID-19 restrictions, socially distant bubbles of volunteers managed to extract 18 bags of garbage and 14 car batteries. This year, the hope is to increase that number—though, Hughes says, he wishes it was less.

“Most residents and visitors care about our river and clean up after themselves,” says Hughes, “nonetheless some litter is inevitable, and sadly we still see illegal dumping of larger items like car tires, household garbage and industrial waste.”

The most common items collected are indicative of recreational activities taking part on the river: cigarette butts, beverage cans, and food wrappers. However, more noxious materials are also found.

“Over the past two years Elkford volunteers have helped pull out over 35 car batteries from the Elk River. We’ve also seen car bodies, chemical containers, and other junk in streams and along banks,” said Hughes, and added, “Toxic trash like this can leach toxins into ground and surface water over decades. The cumulative effects of this can create serious problems as these toxins build up over time.”

The cleanup has seen considerable attendance in the past, and volunteers come back year after year to help their ecosystem.

“Past volunteers have told me that participating in the cleanup is a rewarding way to build community and engage with nature, and they plan to attend again this year. The Elk Valley always shows up when it comes to caring for the watershed,” says Lee-Anne Walker, ERA Board Director.

“As an added incentive to attend, the ERA will offer snacks and door prizes, and gloves and garbage bags will be provided. Volunteers are encouraged to wear masks and socially distance whenever possible”, reminds Hughes.