In the shade under some trees at the far end of the Mission Bay High faculty lot, Karin Zirk stood behind a table filled with registration forms, bananas and apples, and work gloves. Zirk, a member of Friends of Rose Creek and one of the main organizers of the nonprofit group's events, readied the band of volunteers – who ranged in age from 8 to 80 – with suggestions on where to go and how to be safe while cleaning Rose Creek.
Saturday was the county's 31st annual Coastal Cleanup Day, and The Friends of Rose Creek joined with I Love A Clean San Diego to take action and clean up one of the most important watersheds in the Mission Bay-Pacific Beach area.
“Together, with your help, we can get more trash out of the creek disposed of safely and properly and create a clean and beautiful San Diego,” Zirk told the volunteers, who included about 20 students from University of San Diego's marine environment course.
During last year's Coastal Cleanup Day, more than 7,600 volunteers participated in San Diego County, removing a record-breaking 104 tons of debris from local rivers, creeks, canyons, neighborhoods, beaches, and bays.
In lower Rose Creek near the bay, the litter is usually small items such as cigarette butts, bottles and food wrappers. But up around the bend, near Mission Bay Drive and farther north, larger items such as broken furniture, mattresses, and shopping carts clutter the creek.
The college students, young, strong and enthusiastic, received that tough assignment up the creek. Led by longtime USD professor Michel Boudrias, the group marched up the path and then down a gulley into a half-inch of muck and muddy water.
“This cleanup is part of the marine environment class they're taking and also a part of the school's many community service projects,” Boudrias said. “They get to witness firsthand how a watershed is affected by pollution. You can see how trash flows down the creek and eventually ends up in the bay.”
The students dug in and started filling large plastic bags with soggy cardboard and broken chairs along with a shoe, some socks and a pair of pants half buried in mud. “I think we found someone's closet,” quipped one of the students while stuffing the filthy garments into a trash bag.
Down the creek just south of Garnet Avenue, in the lush green marshland dotted with snowy white egrets, volunteers Lexi Castillo and Caroline Nalezny were fishing rusty cans of popular energy drinks out of the water. “These are really disgusting,” Nalezny said. In less than an hour, they had filled a huge garbage bag and were starting on another.
Rose Creek is the natural outfall of a 36-square-mile watershed including nearby Rose and San Clemente canyons and dates back to Archaic (8000-1000 BC) time. One of the oldest archaeological finds was the Late Prehistoric Village of La Rinconada de Jamo, which was observed by the Spanish in 1769, according to Rose Creek Watershed Alliance.
Unfortunately, these days the artifacts discovered along the watershed are usually less archaeologically significant finds such as beer bottles, bed frames and building material. On Coastal Cleanup Day, the tools used to remove these finds are wheelbarrows, wagons, and pickup trucks.
“One reason there is a lot of garbage is because there are no trash cans along the Rose Creek path,” Zirk said. “Also, a lot of homeless live along the creek, and they generate household trash.”
But why all the big-ticket items like a dressers, desks and davenports?
“I think people move out of apartments and rather than take stuff to the dump they just toss it over the edge of the creek and hope it will go away,” Zirk said. “One year we found a hot tub. We have dragged out golf clubs, computers and tables.”
Currently, lower Rose Creek is owned by the City of San Diego Storm Water and Transportation Department, CALTRANS, San Diego Unified School District, the U.S. Navy, and other lesser property owners. That amalgamation of ownership leads to no agency taking an active role in maintaining the area. It's up to the volunteers.
One of the main goals of The Friends of Rose Creek is to convince the city to enter into memorandums of understanding with other property owners to include one unified management agency, then dedicate as open space parkland all city-owned land along lower Rose Creek. That plan has its proponents, such as Mayor Kevin Faulconer, but has stalled due to city budget issues.
For now, it's up to a few dedicated volunteers to keep the creek clean.
“I live here and so do a lot of these volunteers, and we want to live in a nice, clean community,” Zirk said. “The quality of the water in Mission Bay and the ocean depends on the water quality in Rose Creek. We all live in a watershed and every drop we spill goes down stream to an ocean somewhere. We should think globally, but definitely act locally.”