Thanks to two community-minded families who had a little help from friends and strangers, an Avondale wetland area that draws nature lovers from around the Valley got a much-needed spruce up recently.
The trash situation at Tres Rios Base and Meridian Wildlife Area, a popular spot for birders, photographers, kayakers and fishing enthusiasts, had gotten out of hand since it was cleaned up before the 2020 Tres Rios Nature Festival in February.
“Our hearts were broken to see this area, which provides a safe place for birds and animals, to be filled with garbage,” said Joy Brownlee of Avondale, who co-founded the Multicultural Family Network nonprofit with her husband, Jerome. “The amount of trash was devastating. It was in the parking lot. It was in the trees. It was on the shore and it was in the water. We knew if we didn’t act fast, it would overwhelm the ecosystem here.”
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The couple, who moved to Arizona from San Diego, became passionate about removing trash before it gets into the water system after seeing plastic wash up on nearby beaches daily, decided to do something about the mess at Tres Rios.
They enlisted the help of Clare and Kofi Okyere of O Capital Group, who helped provide supplies along with Home Depot and Sam’s Club.
Both families arrived at the site east of Phoenix Raceway at 7 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, with their children, and got to work.
“The seven of us recruited friends, families and strangers to help,” Ms. Brownlee said, noting that about 25 people in total helped gather about 1,150 gallons of trash during the three-hour cleanup.
“We began the messy, heartbreaking, disgusting work of picking up other people’s hurtful choices: beer bottles, diapers, fishing lines, food containers, human waste in plastic containers, toilet paper, and trash upon trash upon trash,” she said. “It brought me to getting physically ill seeing some of the things human beings have done and left behind here. Nobody should have to clean up these items. Yet, if we don’t help make this area clean our kids won’t be able to kayak and bird-watch here. I am afraid at the pace of this destruction this ecosystem can’t keep up, and this area will be closed to the public.”
When they wanted to give up, someone would show up and pitch in.
“Complete strangers took a mask, gloves, trash bag and rake when offered them, and jumped in to join our family. They expressed sorrow over the devastating trash also and wanted to help,” Ms. Brownlee said.
Among those who helped were an Avondale photographer named Ashley and a family from Ghana, who picked up trash and provided additional supplies.
“Several people walked by and didn’t help, saying it wasn’t their problem, that they were there to fish, not clean up other people’s trash. Others without hesitation grabbed the masks, gloves and rakes offered to them and delayed their fun for an hour to help remove trash,” Ms. Brownlee said. “It was at this moment that as individuals and as a community, I realized we may not choose the mess we see in front of us, but we can always choose how we respond.”
In the end, they filled 26, 55-gallon trash bags for the Brownlees to haul away.
“We watched a fish hop out of the water before we left, and it felt like a thank you,” Ms. Brownlee said. “We hope that our community can come together to keep this area clean. We brainstormed some solutions such as enact ‘pack in pack out’ education programs here, patrol the area, provide penalties for littering, and create trash collection systems here.
“There’s a lot we could do as a community, but none would replace the individual responsibility needed for humans who visit this area," Ms. Brownlee said. "As our 7-year-old daughter, Alivia said, ‘If you’re old enough to drive a car to visit here, you’re old enough to carry out your own trash.’”
Anyone interested in participating in future cleanups may email firstname.lastname@example.org.