Cleanup pulls plenty of trash from Little Arkansas River

ON THE LITTLE ARKANSAS RIVER — A couch. A shopping cart. Tires. Dozens of beer cans. Scores of foam and plastic cups. Hordes of snack wrappers. A calculator. A Big Wheel missing two of its three wheels. A pink rubber ducky. Hooks, lines, sinkers and plenty of bobbers.

Canoeing and kayaking volunteers scooped up all that junk and more in a one-block span of Wichita's Little Arkansas River between 12th and 13th streets on Saturday morning.

Now it's headed to the landfill — except for the couch, tires and shopping cart, which proved too embedded in mud to pull out.

"I just think people should take some pride in where they live and where they go," said Marcia Pike as she paddled her kayak in the calm and slightly stinky water. "I mean, a grocery cart doesn't accidentally end up in the river."

The cleanup, organized by the city, Arkansas River Coalition and Kansas Canoe & Kayak Association, drew only a few volunteers.

But they quickly filled about a dozen large plastic bags full of trash.

Some of the litter comes via storm sewers that drain into the river. Other trash comes from illegal dumping.

"It's stuff people should have thrown away in an appropriate way," Pike said.

Roger Norton, who led the cleanup, said he thinks the trash comes from a mix of people who don't know better and who just don't care. He has been part of about five river cleanups and said he's motivated to discard other people's litter to beautify one of Wichita's greatest natural features and to protect wildlife.

Bald eagles, geese, ducks, herons, egrets, foxes, turtles, frogs and fish all live in or near the Little Arkansas River.

Even without the garbage, the river has its share of problems, including fecal coliform bacteria, which comes from humans and livestock.

City officials say the river is currently safe for boating and other recreation, and they monitor the water quality even more closely in advance of the River Festival.

They advise against swallowing the water and recommend washing any body parts that have touched it.

Other hazards exist too, such as the fish hook that got stuck in Pike's side as she pulled tangled fishing line from the water.

She, Norton and Fred Graus, another volunteer paddler, say they may organize a second cleanup in the fall. But there's nothing stopping people from walking the banks or paddling a canoe out to clean up litter anytime.

Norton said he once found a full swing set in the water.

"We actually got it loaded on a canoe," he said with a laugh. "It was kind of a hassle."