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San Diego To Get Major Cleaning This Weekend

Volunteers clean up everything, including the kitchen sink, from beaches and canyons

Above: Volunteers pick up trash around San Diego Bay during the Creek to Bay Cleanup event on April 24, 2010.

— Traffic pumps through the heart of Hillcrest, one of the city's oldest and most tightly packed urban neighborhoods. Concrete and asphalt streets separate and unify pockets of low-rise businesses, apartment buildings and homes.

Aired 4/26/12 on KPBS News.

Volunteers will scour San Diego canyons and creek-beds this weekend, picking up trash that tends to collect there. The idea is to help improve the health of the region's beaches and bays.

Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge across Washington Street to University Heights.
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Above: Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge across Washington Street to University Heights.

The intersection of Washington Street and Lincoln Avenue is pretty busy. That's because there's a major on-ramp to state Route 163 here.

Alison Whitney is heading for the nearby Vermont Street pedestrian bridge. This metal span connects University Heights with a Hillcrest shopping area. Whitney walks out to the center of the bridge.

"Right now we're standing right over traffic that's going over to the northbound 163," she says. "Just before you hit the Interstate 8. And in the morning it's bustling. All you hear is that noise that I'm hearing right now, off the tires on the concrete."

But Whitney's concern isn't the neighborhoods the bridge connects. It's the area under the span. She peers over a metal railing that is nearly as tall as she is. Sandwiched in between the two diverging roadways is a small sliver of a canyon, known by some as Camelot.

"And you know, just a passer by who's not really paying too much attention will just see the tree canopy, and it's gorgeous," Whitney says. "However, as you look a little bit closer and you start to see the trash that's just kind of filtered by and we'll start to see the remnants of someone's, temporary, urban home."

Whitney discovered the canyon after she decided to ditch her car and began to bike to work in nearby Mission Valley. The regular rides gave her time to see the canyon instead of just rushing by. The canyon became a symbol for the surrounding community. She wants to focus on the potential, not the shortcomings.

"If this lays the groundwork and the foundation for, you know, that Camelot that we're looking for, great," she says. "Otherwise it will give us some really good sparks for our neighbors to feel that they have some control over what's going on in their neighborhood and their lives and that we truly are neighbors."

You may have already figured out that Whitney has a passion for volunteering. This weekend she'll lead a couple dozen people who will scour the canyon floor. She wants to help keep the garbage fouling the little spit of nature from trashing San Diego Bay.

"Basically when we have rains like we've had recently, that's all going into our sewer system and into the bay and out to the beaches," she says.

The bay is west of the canyon, on the other side of downtown San Diego.

The body of water is surrounded by one of the nation's largest cities. Parts of the body of water are so polluted, nothing lives there. Morgan Justice Black, who works for I Love A Clean San Diego, wants that to change. She says that's one reason the group organized cleanups at 88 unique creek and canyon sites.

"If we don't pick up the trash in our inland communities, it ends up right here in the bay, floating in the water," she says. "And a lot of people use the bay for recreation, go out on boats. Nobody really wants to deal with that."

Last year, volunteers picked up a half a million pounds of garbage. And the stuff they found ran the gamut.

"All sorts of things," Black says. "From, like I said, bowling balls to shopping carts. Last year we found a mannequin. We find costumes, shoes, basically everything, including the kitchen sink one year."

This Saturday is the 10th year for the cleanup. All told, 33,000 volunteers have toiled to clean up 1,200 miles of canyons and creek beds across San Diego.

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