A group of about 150 volunteers gathered Saturday to clear a portion of the Los Angeles River in Van Nuys. Among their finds: lots of plastic grocery bags, hundreds of cigarette butts, a baseball and, at least for some, a newfound appreciation for the waterway.
"You should go over there. It's really pretty," said Kiya Villareal, a 16-year-old from Sherman Oaks who was there with her family. "They have bamboo and water."
The event was organized by the Friends of the Los Angeles River and underwritten by a $50,000 donation from Aquarius Spring, a bottled water branch of the Coca-Cola Co.; it supplements the Friends of the Los Angeles River's annual clean-up.
Jon Mukri, general manager of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, said his department has never had the funding for such work.
"You're bringing life to a river that was dead when I was a kid," he told the volunteers as they donned gloves, picked up large blue trash bags and headed into the river.
Many of the volunteers had participated in previous clean-ups and expressed some dismay at seeing so much debris. At an event in May that covered a much greater area, volunteers gathered more than 20 tons of trash, according to the Friends of the Los Angeles River, but there was plenty of debris scattered around Saturday's cleanup site, just off Balboa Avenue.
"It mostly frustrates me," said Melissa Federowicz, 27, of Studio City, who had already filled up half a bag with trash and was tugging at some buried plastic by the bank of the river. "This is the life of the city and there's trash everywhere."
Plastics, especially grocery sacks, seemed to make up the majority of the collected debris.
"It makes me believe in reusable bags even more," said Lorraine Toledo, a quality assurance manager for Coca-Cola who traveled from her home in the Inland Empire.
For others it was a chance to have some family time. April and Anthony Quintero gathered their four children, including Kiya Villareal, to come to the event.
Anthony Quintero said he had heard about the event from an e-mail and thought it would be good to get his brood out of bed early.
"These kids are lazy," he said as his wife rolled her eyes.
"They are not," she countered.
April Quintero said the sight of trash along the road and in the river made her angry and she wanted to give her family a sense of civic duty and pride. "I try to explain to them that this is your neighborhood. If you don't take care of it, who will?"
Kiya and her siblings scrambled through the underbrush, gathering items both man-made and natural. "Hey, look what I found," said Gabe, 5, sneaking up on Kiya and thrusting part of a butterfly wing into her face as she shrieked in surprise and ducked.
Family members made their way down the bank, eventually ending up where a grove of bamboo grew by a peaceful bend in the river. At that point, all of their sacks were full and the family took them back to the collection site.
"When people put their time and sweat into cleaning up the river, especially kids, it gives me a lot of hope," said Mukri, the park district manager.
The volunteers gathered about 1,800 pounds of trash, according to the Friends of the Los Angeles River.