Vast areas of Orange County canyon land were picked clean Saturday, and environmentalists didn't utter a protest.
That is because the pickers were after litter.
Operation Super Sweep involved 157 volunteers and another 60 members of the California Conservation Corps who marched into the wilderness armed with garbage bags, water bottles and lunch tickets. And they marched out with an estimated 12,000 pounds of trash, according to Jerry McJunkin, the event's chief organizer.
The volunteers combed rugged canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains, along Santiago Canyon and Maple Springs roads, and in Silverado, Trabuco, and Holy Jim canyons.
Their quarry, McJunkin said, included papers, bottles, cans, plastic containers and metal scraps; they hauled in "cigarette packs and cigarette butts, parts of cars, sometimes . . . an occasional washing machine, or old refrigerator."
Disgusting Disposal of Diapers
"Disposable diapers are a big amount of the disgust out there," McJunkin said.
The litter kept coming: "Bottles--beer bottles and wine bottles--and the containers they come in, paper bags, plastic holders from the six-packs," McJunkin said. "I remember one year we picked up part of a Mazda."
Most of the trash was taken to the county landfill, McJunkin said, but aluminum and other reusable scrap will be recycled. The proceeds--along with money raised from other activities--will support a $500 donation to For Kids Sake, a Brea-based organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Sponsors--including Chevron USA and RecyCAL--helped cover the costs of Operation Super Sweep, McJunkin said.
"We're contributing the garbage," quipped Nancy Curriden, U.S. Forest Service Trabuco District ranger. "We didn't put it there, and we certainly appreciate the assistance . . . to make the (Cleveland National) Forest a better place for people to enjoy."
Dump Fees Called Off
Small businesses donated dinners, gift certificates and other prizes for volunteers, and Orange County provided trucks, signs and garbage bags--and waived road and dump fees.
"It's a very commendable afternoon of cleanup that does two things," said Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande. "It makes the community a little bit nicer . . . (and) it gives recycling money to For Kids Sake."
The primary organizer of the cleanup was the Hughes Fullerton Employees Assn. Ecology Club, a group formed seven years ago--with just four members--to mount a similar attack on litter in the Angeles National Forest.
The original members frequently hiked the canyons and fished the streams of the Angeles, recalled McJunkin, president of the club and the last of its founders still active. "We thought it would be a nice thing to get up there and organize a litter campaign. . . ."
"We got together . . . and decided that there was a need for this type of thing in San Gabriel Canyon," he said. "You get thousands of visitors every weekend, literally thousands of vehicles going up the canyon.
"The people are not taking care of Mother Nature; they're littering quite heavily."
Two years ago, the Ecology Club organized two additional cleanups--leading more than 800 volunteers into Los Angeles' Griffith Park and 207 to Orange County's Santiago Canyon Road, McJunkin said. Around Irvine Lake, they picked up 7 1/2 tons of litter in about 5 hours.
Operation Super Sweep now has become an annual tradition in San Gabriel Canyon, this year drawing 803 volunteers.
"We've had a big success record in the past, and we (wanted) to share it with Orange County," said McJunkin, a plastics fabricator at Hughes Aircraft Co.
The group hopes to make the Orange County cleanup an annual event, he said. "If you figure out the amount of money we can save the county and the federal government by cleaning up the litter, it's astronomical."