Volunteers clean up the L.A. River

Shopping carts, auto parts and sopping-wet clothes were part of the haul Saturday morning as more than 400 volunteers fished trash out of the L.A. River at Griffith Park.

Teams of volunteers fanned out on the concrete levee near Bette Davis Picnic Grounds in Griffith Park, wading into the water and rock-hopping among the reeds to retrieve PVC pipe, cans, bottles and more during the 22nd annual Friends of the Los Angeles River cleanup.

It was a record-breaking day, said Friends of the L.A. River Executive Director Shelly Backlar. Between 4,000 and 5,000 volunteers visited 14 spots on the river Saturday, surpassing the previous top turnout of 3,000.

Backlar said the effort bodes well for her group's Urban River Challenge with the Friends of the Chicago River to see who can draw in more volunteers, pull out more trash and earn more Facebook friends this spring.

The cleanup day, she said, "is not just about trash. It's about people saying, 'Wow, we have a river, and it's a pretty nice river. It's not the river we see in 'Terminator 2.'"

Burbank resident Dale Ferrens, who grew up in Atwater Village and said he's participated in the cleanup for 15 years, thought the stretch of river on the Glendale and Burbank border looked better than usual this year.

Others were less sure. Julia Wahl, one of several eighth-graders on hand from Pasadena's Polytechnic School, said she was surprised by the amount of junk. "People think of the river like a trash bin," she said.

The Los Angeles Education Partnership brought a group of public school teachers to the water's edge Saturday for a tutorial on incorporating the river into their class instruction.

"There are many ways you can check the healthiness of the river," said Oscar Espinoza, a biology teacher from L.A.'s King Drew Magnet High School. Espinoza learned how an inventory of insects or birds, as well as simple tests of dissolved oxygen and pH, gauge the health of the waterway. "They all tell the story of the river."

Debbi Converse of Pasadena found an array of pretty birds flying overhead and a duck's nest in the water. But that's not all.

"I think we found the auto row section of the river," Converse said as she hauled ashore chunks of metal in various shapes. "I also found Lindsay Lohan's career. It's dead."

A few steps upstream, Joyce Lau of Sherman Oaks used a metal pole she'd found to extract a cold, wet dollar bill from the greenish shallows. "This river is a nice river," Lau said. "If we keep cleaning it up it will be a great asset to the city."

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