Volunteers begin river cleanup of Korbel dump debris

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A dozen people in canoes, kayaks and drift boats pulled tattered bits of plastic from trees and dug bottles out of mud Thursday during a cleanup of the Russian River near Korbel.

Trash litters the river for a quarter mile downstream from an old dump site at Korbel Champagne Cellars that is being uncovered as the Russian River erodes a river bank along the vineyards.

Bits of plastic, bottles and trash can be found five miles away in Guerneville.

"Trash is everywhere on the river, but this is really bad, and plastic is the worst of all the pollutants you see along the river" said Chris Brokate of Forestville.

Brokate was one of a dozen members from the Russian Riverkeeper conservation group that was doing the cleanup, which Korbel was paying for.

At the dump site on the edge of the vineyard, Don McEnhill, Russian Riverkeeper program director, pulled out large sheets of plastic and bottles, part of the trash buried decades ago.

The mini flotilla formed at Drake Beach, a quarter mile downstream, where McEnhill handed out burlap sacks for the trash and long poles to reach the trash from the trees. He urged volunteers to use caution.

"The first goal is to make sure everyone stays dry and safe," McEnhill said. "If you are not comfortable reaching something high in the branches, then don't. Whatever we don't get today, we'll come back and get in the future."

Even before they left Drake Beach, volunteer Kai Klaassen of Healdsburg waded into the river and pulled out four champagne bottles, an old tire and other trash.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in 1998 had overseen a cleanup of the dump site, but those who live along the river say it still causes problems annually when rain raises the river level.

Robert Legge, an intern with the water board, was volunteering in the cleanup at the same time assessing it for the water board.

"We have to do something and we have to do something fast," Legge said. "This problem is not going to correct itself."

MaryJeanne McAteer, who lives across the river from Korbel, watched the cleanup effort from a sandbank.

"I am so happy the trash is cleaned up, but I will be happier when the dump is cleaned up," McAteer said. "Otherwise we will be here next year again."

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