Out in drift boats on a late winter Sunday, members of the Sky River Anglers weren’t catching steelhead. With that season now closed, they instead went fishing for trash — and did they ever find it.
“We started in Sultan,” said Matthew Kennedy, founder of the Sky River Anglers group. “It was way more than we expected — probably close to 2,000 pounds. There were car doors, tires, a lot of aluminum and roofing materials.”
More than 20 people turned out for the all-day effort March 1. Volunteers cleaned up riverbanks along the Skykomish from Sultan down to Monroe’s Lewis Street Bridge, a nearly 10-mile stretch. The book “Paddling Washington” describes the Sky’s loveliness, its wide gravel bars, views of steep hillsides, and cottonwood trees protecting the shoreline.
That beauty, though, is marred by the unwanted things people leave there.
Gary Bee, who’s part of the Sky River Anglers and Sky Valley Trout Unlimited, saw all that trash while recently checking on the flow of Eagle Creek into the Skykomish. He’s involved with Eagle Creek Hatchery. A private hatchery run by volunteers, it raises and releases coho into the Sky.
“With this last high water, we were concerned. We released 60,000 coho and were concerned how they would get down the river,” the 67-year-old Bee said Friday. “I saw how much plastic there was on the riverbanks and decided to do something about it.”
Bee turned to Kennedy, who could reach out to the Sky River group online, to coordinate the cleanup.
Kennedy, 33, oversees the Sky River Anglers’ private Facebook group, which includes more than 1,000 people. Several hundred are active, Kennedy said.
Using six drift boats and two flat-bottomed craft known as sleds, the group was on the river from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They picked up debris scattered on the banks due to heavy rains and high water, plus trash that was intentionally dumped, and garbage from homeless encampments near the river.
The mess included shopping carts, bicycle frames, blankets, sleeping bags, blue tarps “and a lot of grocery store plastic bags — you see them everywhere,” said Bee, who like Kennedy makes his home in the Monroe area.
The volunteers made big piles, to be picked up after the outing. One was at the Ben Howard Boat Launch, another on private land at a spot along the river called the Two-Bit Hole, and the third pile at Lewis Street Park in Monroe. The city of Monroe disposed of that last pile, the men said. But Bee and Kennedy paid to dump trash in the other two piles at a county facility.
Bee and Kennedy have worked together on kids’ fishing derbies. Their effort on the river was aimed largely at helping the Sky’s fishery. Trash that doesn’t get buried in the riverbank catches silt, Bee said.
“Fish need to spawn on gravel,” he said. “There’s all kinds of plastic there accumulating silt and covering up spawning beds. That’s bad. It just takes forever to break down.”
What’s helpful for fish also enhances the river experience for the rest of us — anglers or not.
All that trash was an eyesore, Bee said. “That’s a very popular spot for tourists, people recreating with inner tubes,” he said. “It’s a popular drift. It was so ugly, we’ve got to do something.”
Earlier this winter, during the closure of U.S. 2, Kennedy helped people snowed in or stranded in Skykomish. With the JBLM Jeepers Club, he said, “I was part of a convoy. We were doing welfare checks and dropping supplies.”
With spring nearly here, Kennedy looks forward to getting back on the river — but not to collect trash. The Skykomish is set to open for fishing hatchery chinook salmon on Memorial Day weekend.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sky River Anglers Facebook group is private, but to learn more email Matthew Kennedy at: email@example.com