John Belaka grew up in the Ozarks and was used to bushwhacking. He carried a tire, which he found in the stream bed, up the banks of Hinkson Creek and disappeared into the thick brush at the creek’s edge.
Belaka was just one of the estimated 150 Co-
lumbia residents who volunteered for the second annual Hinkson Clean Sweep on Saturday morning at four locations around the city. The volunteers, who numbered 25 more than last year, met organizers at the Walnut Street bridge, Flat Branch Park, Hinkson Creek Valley Neighborhood and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the MKT Trail.
Gloves, bags and refreshments were provided for participants.
Scott Dye, director of the Sierra Club’s Water Quality Monitoring and Enforcement Program, said the cleanup of the creek and its tributaries is important because 70 percent of Columbia is affected by pollution in the Hinkson Creek watershed.
“People think storm runoff goes down the drain to a water treatment plant,” Dye said. “That water runs directly into the creek.”
Mona Menezes, the city’s storm water educator, helped organize the program for the city. She said the program was important not only to gain community participation, but also to educate people on the watershed.
“The (Environmental Protection Agency) now considers storm water runoff — water from yards, streets, parking lots and other urban areas — the No. 1 contributor to water pollution,” Menezes said, citing a recent EPA study.
The Hinkson Creek Valley Neighborhood Association voted to become involved in the program after residents saw the need to improve the condition of the creek that runs behind many of their homes, said Jeanine Pagan, an association member.
Pagan said she takes pride in preserving the creek and wildlife, which the association has done for the past four or five years. This is the first year that the neighborhood has teamed up with the citywide effort.
Pagan said the neighbors worried about the children who have been playing in the creek near discarded surveyor’s spikes and buried spools of cable.
Several families volunteered at the Walnut Street bridge, and Dye said he was encouraged by the number of children participating in the process.
Dye said it’s not all cigarette packs, beer bottles and other litter in the creek. In the past, at similar cleanups, volunteers found antique bird cages and other keepsakes in need of a good cleaning and a good home.
While it seemed that none of the finds this year would end up in somebody’s home, the volunteers, who showed up looking to clean their community, had some interesting jobs over the course of the day.
Volunteers with the neighborhood association dismantled a squatter’s encampment under the Old 63 bridge.
Nearby, John Holmes and Corey Hale dug into the thick black mud for nearly an hour to free a shopping cart.
“That was incredible,” said Pagan. “We’ve had people try to get that cart out for the past four years.”