Healdsburg teen cleans up Russian River, inspires others

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Ned Fausone is a riverkeeper. This 15-year-old student gathers trash along the Russian River each week near Badger Park in Healdsburg, making the trails and paths more pleasant for all who visit. And while he’s quick to deny that the job is anything more than a “community service obligation” required by his school, he does admit to enjoying his time at the river.

Fausone’s trash gathering came out of a project he did with his sister, Sofia, at the Wetzel Native Plant Garden and behind the Bear Republic Brewing Co. along Foss Creek. At the time, the two were students at West Side Elementary School. The school regularly participates in the annual creek cleanups. Their mother, Kate Nowell-Smith, joined them during the workdays.

Not only did the students gather trash, they categorized it, offering Russian Riverkeeper Don McEnhill valuable information about the types of materials on the banks and in the waters of Foss Creek. The Riverkeeper organization hopes to inspire the City of Healdsburg to install two garbage barrels in the parking lot at the Cerri Building, adjacent to the garden and creek.

Fausone moved on from West Side School to Roseland Collegiate Prep school in the seventh grade. He is now in the 10th grade, and into more than three years of garbage collection. The school requires an annual community service commitment of 20 hours during the course of the school year.

“I was helping look into community service options when I talked with Don,” Nowell-Smith said.

Part of the appeal of trash removal along the river was the opportunity for Fausone to write his own project, and to incorporate it into the near-daily walks and runs he and family members take in the area.

“I picked the river cleanup because I was already familiar with the river,” said Fausone. For his project when he was in the seventh grade at Roseland Prep, Fausone cleared an elderly neighbor’s garden. But now, the river continues to be his ongoing project.

Fausone keeps a log of the time he accumulates gathering garbage and he has already put in 10 hours this term. Over the years, he says, he’s gathered between 20 and 30 large bags of trash from the park and from the banks of the river.

Cigarette butts, snack bags and soda and beer bottles and cans are the items he most frequently gathers, after donning latex gloves. While he sometimes uses a “grabber,” most often, he gathers the garbage with his covered hands. He said it is helpful that the family lives just a short distance from the park, with its entrances to several river paths.

And, while he no longer logs his daily haul according to type, the load is getting a little lighter. Over the years, he’s found less trash being toss along the paths.

“The river is peaceful and beautiful,” Fausone said. “I love to hang out there. It soothes my soul to walk through the riparian forest.”

Fausone is sometimes accompanied by his grandparents, well-known Canadian writer and birder Richard Pope and his wife, Felicity. He credits them with pointing out the different bird species and helping him identify local birds.

Sometimes gathering garbage along the river can be an uncomfortable proposition, such as the day he ran across a homeless person. He chose to leave the river, returning another day to collect debris.

“When people see someone as young as Ned giving up their time to clean up others’ trash, it helps motivate better behavior and encourages others to not litter and help clean up too,” McEnhill said. “Pitching in to clean up trash is often contagious, and Ned is helping everyone get it.”

Fausone’s mother concurs.

“Definitely, in the years we’ve been walking there, it has improved. We see lasting changes in the amount of garbage along the river,” she said. “The obligation is his motivation, but he loves being in nature.

“Don’s allowing Ned the freedom to make our own program has been essential to the project. He’s made it easy for Ned to do what he loves.”

Fausone fully expects to continue the project for the next two years of high school. While he is unsure whether he will attend college, he does take college prep courses at school.

Meanwhile, along the river, Fausone finds a “satisfying feeling” when carting trash off the riverbanks and pitching it into the dumpsters at Badger Park.

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