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Volunteers clean up L.A. River

A group of about 3,000 volunteers spread out over a 52-mile stretch to clear trash and debris from the urban waterway.

May 10, 2009|Carla Hall

A trove of trash was plucked from the Los Angeles River on Saturday morning during the 20th annual river cleanup.

An estimated 3,000 volunteers spread out over 14 sites from the San Fernando Valley down to Long Beach. Wearing disposable gloves and armed with trash sacks, the garbage-collectors-for-a-day did their part to purge the river of all manner of trash that ends up in its 52-mile stretch.

"We've had hot tubs and phone booths," said Shelly Backlar, executive director of Friends of the Los Angeles River, which organizes the cleanup. "It's almost like, 'What am I going to find?' "

At the Sepulveda Basin site, volunteers used shovels to dig up old shopping carts as a bluegrass band serenaded them. (At most of the sites, people didn't actually wade into the water.)

"The best thing we have today is a dreadlocked Barbie," said Backlar, who was working the Sepulveda site along with some 200 volunteers -- including members of UCLA's chapter of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.

A volunteer discovered the doll, its blond hair matted with vegetation, and plopped her on top of a growing pile of interesting finds.

At the Willow Street site in Long Beach, volunteers walked down steep banks to get to the river's edge, steadying themselves with ropes along the way. They plucked rusted metal and tangled electrical cords from the river while ducklings waddled by.

Backlar said cleaning the river can be a pastoral experience. "You're pulling out chip bags and 7-Eleven cups and you look up and a great blue heron will fly by."

On Saturday, Backlar spied an oriole and two ducks. Someone else pointed out a bullfrog.

And a Los Angeles Sanitation Bureau truck was at L.A. River Center headquarters in Cypress Park to pick up some of the garbage. "We ended up recycling a lot of the trash we pulled out of the river," Backlar said.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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