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As LA River's popularity grows, so does cleanup project

Dozens of abandoned shopping carts were cleaned up from the banks of the Los Angeles River in Encino, Calif., April 26, 2014.
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Dozens of abandoned shopping carts were cleaned up from the banks of the Los Angeles River in Encino, Calif., April 26, 2014.

In another sign of the growing public interest in the Los Angeles River, close to 1,000 volunteers flocked to four sites along its banks Saturday to pull shopping carts, plastic bags - even a glittery wedding cake topper — from the shrubs. It's the first of three clean up weekends for the 25th anniversary of the L.A. River cleanup project, a significant expansion from years past. 

Karin Flores, the event coordinator, said she's seen a real shift in the community's understanding and connection to the river in the last several years.

"I think people are starting to claim it as a civic resource, as something of pride," she said.

So many people have RSVPed they've stopped accepting them for some locations. The upcoming May 3 cleanup is almost at capacity. 

"This is amazing, it's unprecedented that we're really filling up this entire dumpster today," said Shelly Backlar, director of education programs for Friends of the Los Angeles River — the nonprofit that organized the cleanup. She was standing at the Sepulveda Basin clean up site in Encino, where volunteers pulled nearly 30 shopping carts from the river banks.

"There were lines of people pushing them up like they were pushing them back into the store," she said. 

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Backlar said the group was prepared for 300 volunteers in Encino. Nearly 500 showed up. The event is usually one weekend. This is the first year the nonprofit has expanded the cleanup effort to three weekends. 

For some it was a bizarre day.

"There was a pillow, there was a sock, there was a toothbrush," said Regina Manasan, who works for AECOM, one of the corporate sponsors of the event. It was her first time visiting the river and she found the sheer volume of trash staggering.

"I didn't expect that much to be in there," Manasan said. 

The river is about to undergo significant change. Last fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a feasibility report outlining four different visions for it's future.

It described how urban development caused the river to deteriorate over the last 150 years. Among the new plans: Modifying a portion of the waterway to install a freshwater marsh.

The four main options detailed in the report were selected from dozens of possibilities. They range in budget and scope, with varying impacts on the local economy. Local and federal funds would be used to cover the costs. 

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