CWU community cleans up Yakima River

Courtesy of Hunter Ventoza

Courtesy of Hunter Ventoza

Andrew Kollar, Staff Reporter

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Buses packed with almost 300 students and community members filled the Yakima River Canyon for the 44th annual Yakima River Cleanup last Saturday, April 15.

The Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE) was in charge of getting almost 300 students and community members to clean the Yakima River Canyon, in addition to coordinating with organizations, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The volunteers were stationed at various locations on the river from Big Pines to Helen McCabe, all of them doing different jobs such as cleaning up litter, planting trees, and re-staining information boards. Every volunteer had a purpose and a job to do, maximizing the amount of work in the given time.

Garret Swatzina, a CLCE employee majoring in high school social studies education, oversaw 44 volunteers at the Big Pines recreation site. The primary focus at Big Pines was to clear the boat launch from debris, paint and re-stain the information boards, and pick up trash around the campsites.

“It [volunteering] makes a huge difference with how many people we get involved. I’m pretty sure that last year alone we removed something like two tons of trash from the Yakima Canyon,” Swatzina said.

Swatzina was a volunteer last year, because he enjoyed making a difference in the community and wants to take pride in the area that he lives. This year through the CLCE, he was involved in setting the event up and was placed in charge of the Big Pines location. Although setting up an event of this magnitude presented challenges– including a few stressful meetings and many emails that coordinated the cleanup– Swatzina is happy to help other people get involved in community service.

“It’s important to maintain and sustain what we have left of our environment,” Swatzina said.

Another partner in the cleanup was the BLM, an agency that focuses on keeping the recreation sites around the United States pristine. Rusty Gates, a specialist in natural resource and recreation, was at the cleanup as a representative of BLM and was excited to be involved with students and encourages the university to reach out for future projects.

Gates’ job includes recreation planning, which entails planning for new trails and recreational events and the other half is dedicated to being out in the field and maintaining recreation areas east of the Cascades.

“Our busy recreation area is the Yakima River Canyon. It gets super busy in the summertime , because a lot of people come out and float the river,” Gates said.

Every volunteer had a different reason for helping with the cleanup. Brandon Scott, a junior studying geology, was in charge of cleaning the boat launch of debris on Saturday. He believes that if you enjoy the outdoor sites, it’s your responsibility to give back.

“It’s good to spend more time outside and give back and make sure the natural areas are pristine as possible,” Scott said.

Freshman Madison Gerichs was placed on the campsite-cleanup team and was enthusiastic about helping the community while interacting with people.

“I think it’s important to volunteer, to participate and meet other people and see what our community does and to see what Rusty Gates does and how important his job is to keep the environment clean,” Gerichs said.

Whether you are volunteering because you feel an obligation to give back to the areas that you utilize, or you are volunteering because you like to help the community and interacting with people, the volunteers helping with the Yakima River Cleanup were having fun while cleaning up one of Washington’s most treasured river valleys.

If you missed the Yakima River Cleanup and would like to volunteer for the Ellensburg Downtown-Cleanup on Saturday April 22 you can find more information at or at their office in SURC 256.

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CWU community cleans up Yakima River