Two Long Beach Sites Part of 24th Annnual Great L.A. River Cleanup


Photos by Carl Hidalgo

While Downtown was buslting with Pride festivities all weekend, more than 100 volunteers spent Saturday morning far less glamourously. Donning heavy duty work gloves and large trash bags, they entered two closed-to-the-public sites along the Los Angeles River in Long Beach and scooped up discarded potato chip bags, pieces of rusted metal and other assorted detritus for proper disposal.

The trash removed from Willow Street Estuary and at Golden Shore made up just a fraction of the estimated 25 tons of garbage that was removed during the 24th annual La Gran Limpieza–or The Great Los Angeles River Clean Up. Organized by Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring this natural riparian habitat, the cleanup is one time a year when permits are secured and volunteers are able to remove garbage at 15 sites along the river.

In Long Beach, dedicated local residents–such as Nancy Risch, Joan Greenwood, Edie Pearl and Lenny Arkinstall–have been volunteering at the Willow Street Estuary site for decades. Many are members of the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance and live in the river-adjacent neighborhood.

“They’re leaders. They hold the knowledge year to year to year,” says Karin Flores, who is in charge of putting together the Great Los Angeles River Cleanup. “They know the ins and out and the little tricks and make the event happen.”


Lewis MacAdams, President and Founder of FoLAR, says that though there are still problem areas such as Compton Creek (a popular illegal dumping site), he has been seeing improvements in trash levels over the years and that in some instances, volunteers run out of garbage to pick up by the end of the three-hour work day.

“In years past we would find a hot tub or a half Volkswagon. Nowadays, many cases the biggest things we bring out shopping carts,” he says. “Still, for another year in a row, Frito Lay wins as hands-down the largest polluter of the river. Their snack bags don’t break down.”

At five river sites–including Willow Street Estuary–every 5th bag of trash was diverted for charactarization which will tell FoLAR more about types and amount of trash material that ends up in the river. Data can be used to determine effectiveness of mitigation efforts and to see how content changes over the years.

Located at the southern terminus of the 50-mile long waterway, Long Beach is an interesting lens into the river’s health as trash and pollution builds up while flowing through on its way to the ocean, making it a unique spot for the charactarization process.

“Long Beach is the proof,” says MacAdams. “If the river is improving, it’s improving for Long Beach and if we’re not improving it’s not improving for Long Beach.”

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