In a recent visit to our state, Bono, lead singer of the band U2, explained that he doesn’t hesitate to use the word “awesome” in describing Arizona and its natural beauty.
I’m with Bono.
Kayaking the Salt River at sunset in Tonto National Forest with saguaros silhouetted in the foreground is one of my family’s favorite pastimes. As the fifth largest national forest in the country, Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the U.S. It sees over 5.8 million visitors annually. Aside from offering attractive backdrops and adventures, one of the national forest’s primary purposes is to protect watersheds around reservoirs, which produce on average 350,000 acre-feet of water every year.
On October 22nd, National Make a Difference Day, 1,327 volunteers, including 200 scouts and 149 full-time missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gathered for a unique, family-friendly service event. The mission? To clean a seven-mile stretch of the Salt River in the Tonto area. Under the direction of President Reece Bawden, president of the Mesa Citrus Heights Stake, and under the leadership of Patrick and Julia Ryan, Stake Community Service Specialists, this community event was one for the books. 10,645 pounds of trash were removed.
Volunteers of all faiths and ages made up nine teams assigned to sections of river with its surrounding shores. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s department assisted in traffic control. Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl attended for photo opps and to give out gift bags to families. Donated food items filled bins with Ginny Hildebrand, President and CEO of the United Food Bank, in attendance thanking volunteers for their generosity. Thanks to corporate sponsors like Frito Lay, Frys, Walmart, Target, Coca Cola, Safeway, Albertsons and Home Depot, volunteers received a water bottle, chips, granola bars, and a garbage bag.
One team made up of members of the Salt River Horse Management Group used kayaks to access a more difficult stretch of the river. Simone Netherlands, founder of the group, says, “It was such an honor to be a part. The River looks clean again!”
Clean-up provided for some interesting conversation, as some of the more curious items volunteers unearthed along the awesome shores of the Salt River included a headless statue, a gingerbread house, and a lava lamp.
Families and neighbors came together to make a difference and many hands truly made for light work. Parents carried babies or held their little hands as they worked alongside older volunteers with canes. I personally watched two women wade through the river to help gather trash on the other side. One woman was supporting the older woman as they made the journey together.
Speaking of the project, Julia Ryan says, “[It] encompasses all aspects of JustServe, neighbors of all faiths working side by side to better the community.”
Gary Hanna, District Ranger of Tonto National Forest, says, “This is a beautiful spot to have so close to home. It is a treasure. The two largest service events in the forest have been this project and this same event as the Ryans headed up last year.”
See JustServeSaltRiver.org for more information.