Rachel Zarfaf, a member of Tree Keepers, walked Bear Creek Trail’s North Garth Avenue access point early Saturday morning picking up various pieces of litter.
“It’s not pouring down rain, so it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” Zarfaf said. She was wearing in a navy-blue jacket, white knitted scarf and warm gloves.
Despite the cold and rainy weather Saturday, nearly two-thirds of the groups who registered for Clean Up Columbia still came out to clean and pick up litter.
Members of Tree Keepers, a city-sponsored volunteer group, were just one of the many organizations, businesses and families who trekked through mud and water to clean up the city.
Several groups completed their work Friday night in anticipation of the forecast for snow. Others
rescheduled their events for later.
On the other side of the park at the trail’s entrance, Cheryl Hardy, a Columbia College psychology professor, was cleaning up near the parking lot. Hardy said she attributes a number of the city’s environmental efforts to Mayor Darwin Hindman.
Hardy said she’s personally drawn to help because she realizes that the trash on the ground will last a lot longer than people realize.
“When people throw down a cigarette butt, they just assume it will biodegrade, but what they don’t know is that it takes something like 20 years,” Hardy said.
Almost every year, an average of about 1,100 Columbians come out to clean up the city’s parks and streets. Last year, volunteers gave 2,539 hours, which, when multiplied by the national value for an hour of volunteer service, equals about $45,800 of what could have been paid work.
Leigh Nutter, the event’s volunteer coordinator, said she feels that volunteers often work exceptionally hard because they are doing it with a passion to leave the world a better place than they came into it.
“Volunteers are probably going to work harder,” Nutter said. “They are doing it because they want to, not to get paid but to get the credit for it.”
Clean Up Columbia began in 1997 with 50 groups and 350 participants. This year, 125 groups preregistered to participate.
Tree Keepers’ John Stegemann said that among other things he believes efforts like this one can even increase property value by making the community a better place to live.
“Every time we do something — build a new library, build a new school, put another park in — it just makes this community a little more attractive,” Stegemann said.