Thousands expected to clean up LA River this weekend

FOLAR's Lewis MacAdams and Brian Watt with some of the trash you can find in the LA River.
FOLAR's Lewis MacAdams and Brian Watt with some of the trash you can find in the LA River. John Rabe

The L.A. River runs a couple of miles north of downtown Los Angeles. There are trees, waterfowl, butterflies, a few fish - and a lot of trash. This Saturday, thousands of people are expected to help clean up the L.A. River. The volunteer effort, dubbed La Gran Limpieza is in its third decade. This year, there’ll be 14 cleanup sites with bands at each one, and even Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be rolling up his sleeves.

“The first time I called for 10,000 people to show up, and about 20 did,” said Lewis MacAdams, the cleanup's organizer. But since its foundation 22 years ago the cleanup effort has steadily grown, with almost 3,000 people already registered in advance for this Saturday.

And all 3,000 are expected to have their hands full. In the past, trash cleanups included “telephone booths, torched Volkswagens and Santeria swords. Now it’s mostly plastics and fast food wrappers. Until the last couple of years, we were taking out 25 tons – and it was just a drop in the bucket.”

Regardless of the vast amounts of trash that has accumulated and repopulated the river through the years, MacAdams has kept his optimism.

“Now that it’s getting so big, you’re starting to really see a difference. What’s really changed is people’s attitude towards the river. Instead of people considering it a no man’s land, people are starting to get proud of it.”

You can sign up for this Saturday’s cleanup by visiting the Friends of the Los Angeles River website. The 14 cleanup sites extend from Canoga Park to Long Beach.

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