COLUMBIA — Participants splished, splashed and slipped their way along the mossy rocks and muddy banks of Hinkson Creek this Saturday in a community-wide effort to collect trash and debris from the creek before it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico and out into the oceans.
The fifth annual Hinkson Clean Sweep took place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday on five sections of the creek. Mona Menezes of the Public Works Department said that cities are required to provide public outreach and participation opportunities under the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Sweep has certainly seen a huge increase in numbers since its inaugural season. The first year, there were only 30 participants. This year, 230 participants registered.
Chris Petner heard about the event from a local newspaper, and decided it would be a great opportunity for her three-year-old triplets: Kensie, Brennen and Kyler.
"It's important for them to see the big picture and see the importance of helping the community and environment," Petner said.
At deeper places, the triplets held hands while wading through chest-deep water, but soaked shirts didn't dampen their spirits as they filled fluorescent orange bags with various bits of plastic, aluminum cans and scrap metal.
"They love the creek, and they love water," Petner said.
There were also several unexpected volunteers who had come out to enjoy the morning's cool weather and sunshine and found themselves compelled to assist.
Missouri House of Representatives candidate Mary Still was out for a jog when she happened upon the group.
She sees the tributary from her office window in Harlan, Harlan & Still and commented on the creek's aesthetic importance.
"Now it looks almost as clean as a whistle," Still said.
Michelle Belt's four children, seven-year-olds Andrew and Taylor , six-year-old Kevin and five-year-old Mara, have participated in a previous stream clean-up with Fun City Youth Academy's Saturday program and wanted to get their mother in on the fun.
"They love playing in the water, and they can't believe what they find in there," Belt said.
There was an interesting assortment of objects found by Flat Branch Park. In addition to the expected plastic, cans, and cigarette butts, objects included a jacket, a pair of shoes, a pair of pants, a gas cap, a broken beaded necklace, a toy car, a toy rocket ship, an inflatable pumpkin, a fluorescent light fixture and a metal scrap that quickly became an impromptu hat.
Gift cards donated by Best Buy and Wal-Mart were awarded to those who collected the most interesting pieces of trash. Boone County Public Works, Sierra Club and Stream Team also helped with the event.
Scott Dye, national director of the Sierra Club's Water Sentinel program, said that 2.1 tons of trash, 200 pounds of recyclables and 15 tires were recovered.
Though any type of trash is detrimental to creeks and streams, plastics and cigarette butts are a real problem.
Menezes said that plastics will never biodegrade, but only break up into smaller pieces the same size as krill. Currently, there is an enormous gyre of plastic in the Pacific Ocean.
"There are six times the amount of plastic as there is krill in that area," Menezes said.
Cigarette butts that find their way into the streams will also be hazardous to the ocean.
"The Clean Air Act forced smokers outside, and this is especially a problem in college towns where people smoke after bars," Menezes said.
In a city like Columbia, whose storm drains run directly into the streams, the influx of cigarette butts can be a huge problem.
"Every year five trillion cigarettes are manufactured, and probably half wind up on streets and sidewalks," Menezes said.
These cigarette butts will eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico and will not biodegrade for 10 to 15 years.
Around 20 additional stream clean-ups take place throughout the year, and the Public Works office can be contacted for assistance and supplies.
"We had great people who worked hard and really made a difference," Menezes said.