Winter is coming, and before snow covers the trash scattered around Bethel, volunteers are mobilizing over the weekend of Oct. 10 to collect trash in subdivisions and parks across the city. The event, “Clean Up Before Freeze Up,” is a play on the annual “Clean Up Green Up” event where community members clean up litter after breakup. The event will take place from Oct. 9 to 11.
Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Executive Director Mary Peltola conceived of the plan. Concerned with the wellbeing of Y-K Delta residents and the dwindling salmon runs, Peltola wanted to enact a community event to create a healthier environment for the fish and people of the Kuskokwim. The fish commission partnered with the Orutsararmiut Native Council to organize the project.
“Trash left around the community always finds its way to water,” ONC Natural Resources Technician Karaline Black said. “It does this… by breaking down into smaller bits and leaking harmful chemicals into the tundra, which ends up in our streams, rivers, and eventually, the ocean.”
Fish can then eat these smaller pieces of trash.
“In each of these scenarios, our aquatic relatives, the plants around us, and our own bodies are harmed as we consume foods grown or caught from our local ecosystem,” Black said.
Nearly 80 volunteers have signed up for the clean up event. Event organizer and Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Communications and Outreach Coordinator Terese Schomogyi has been overwhelmed by community support for the event. “It’s great that people are so excited to help out with spontaneous community events like this one,” Schomogyi said of the support that she has received. “There are so many community leaders who have helped this event come together. It shows that people do notice the amount of litter around the city and want to be a part of the solution, because I think people really do care about Bethel.”
Businesses and organizations across Bethel have donated supplies and prizes to incentivize participants. The City of Bethel has donated trash bags. Swanson’s has donated vinyl gloves for volunteers to use. Fili’s Pizza is offering each volunteer a certificate for a large pizza simply for participating, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center’s Lifesavers club is offering pool passes to the top collectors of the event.
“Clean Up Before Freeze Up” organizers, especially Schomogyi, encourage community members to wave to people picking up trash around the city this weekend, “because they’re doing a good thing for this community.”