Nearly 460 volunteers met for the 6th annual Fall River Clean Up on Saturday. Above, volunteers clear out trash from the San Marcos River during the fall river clean up. Daily Record photo by Zoe Gottlieb
City, TXST host 6th Annual Fall River Clean Up
What keeps San Marcos beautiful?
The answer may lie with a group of volunteers who meet twice a year to scour embankments and storm drains for trash.
Four-hundred-fifty-seven volunteers met Saturday morning across nine different watersheds to participate in San Marcos’ 6th annual Fall River Clean Up.
Community Enhancement Initiatives Manager Amy Thomaides said this year’s cleanup marked the first year “we were able to go back to our pre-COVID protocols.”
“The last couple of years, we were in COVID cleanup form, so people were signed up, they picked up their supplies here, and we just trusted they cleaned up their area,” Thomaides said. “And it may or may not have been on the day we had a roll-off, so we don’t have accurate weights for those two years.”
The Fall River Clean Up is an initiative hosted by the City of San Marcos and Texas State University to clean up waterways and surrounding areas that feed into the San Marcos River.
Thomaides said volunteers filled two 20-yard roll-offs this year, adding that “we didn’t overfill the cage trailer that has all the recyclables, which is a good thing.”
Watersheds include Blanco River, Purgatory Creek 1 and 2, San Marcos River 1 and 2, Sessom, Sink, and Willow Creeks and are each managed by a watershed leader, according to Thomaides. The watershed leaders advise crew leaders “where (in) their area (are) things they need to look for as potential types of trash.”
“The crew leaders will manage 10 to 20 volunteers, depending on how many signed up for that watershed,” she said.
Melani Howard, Habitat Conservation Plan Manager for the City of San Marcos, first came up with the idea for a Fall River Clean Up around 20 years ago, according to Thomaides.
“So when I started working here nine years ago, I started getting involved with the Spring River Clean Up and realized how it might be good if we did two,” she said. “Now it’s gone beyond the boundaries of just the San Marcos River proper. It’s the whole Upper River Watershed.”
Thomaides said the trash collection is not limited to the waterways but includes drainage ditches and downtown streets.
River Clean Ups are part of Keep San Marcos Beautiful, an initiative formed in 2009 to “promote keeping the city’s environment visually and physically pristine,” according to a description on the City of San Marcos website.
“This is achieved through our programs consisting of litter removal and prevention, community beautification, and environmental education,” the description reads. “We strive to efficiently use our resources within city departments, as well as partnerships with organizations and individuals to advocate for a cleaner and healthier city.”
Other activities hosted by Keep San Marcos Beautiful are Hot Spot Clean Ups, which take place in various litter “hot spots” around San Marcos on the first Saturday of the month, and Adopt-A-Spot, in which individuals, businesses, or groups pledge to “beautify” spots around San Marcos at least six times a year.
TXST Environmental, Health, Safety, Risk & Emergency Management Specialist Peyton Austin has volunteered for the Fall River Clean Up since he first learned of its existence in 2018.
“We had a good turnout,” he said of Saturday’s event. “Areas being dirtier than usual isn’t a good thing, but we get down to business for cleaning, and it works out nicely. We have a good network of people who volunteer every time, and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Although Austin admittedly was “bouncing in between groups this year,” he said based on feedback from several co-workers, “I think they were impressed by the dedication of the volunteers. We had high school students, we had residents, we had college students, and all of them were there to make sure the job got done.”
“When people hear river cleanup, they think about being directly on the river,” Austin added. “But I think (this cleanup) illustrated to them the creek that we were on feeds directly into the San Marcos River, like most of them do in town. And so I think once they understood that, they were very motivated to do good work.”
A new perspective
The San Marcos River flows for 81.26 miles through Hays, Guadalupe, and Caldwell Counties and is considered one of the largest volume spring-fed rivers in Texas, according to the Texas River Protection Association.
Austin said water from the San Marcos River is “about as good as water quality gets” in Texas, “so anything that happens to it while it’s passing through our jurisdiction is largely due to development or the city existing.”
“We want to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’re not impacting the river negatively or hurting anybody downstream from us,” he pointed out.
In East Texas, where he grew up, the rivers Austin knew were muddy and polluted. But whenever he spent his summers with family in San Marcos, “I always understood that there was something important to this area,” he said.
Since he started volunteering, Austin says he is now more aware of what it takes to keep the San Marcos River “beautiful.”
“When I’m anywhere in town, and I see a dirty parking lot with lots of litter, or I see spilled oil somewhere, even if it’s not necessarily close to the river, I know that it does have ecological implications,” he said. “I think about our community a little bit different[ly] because of the river.”