Fryingpan cleanup

Volunteers pictured during last year’s cleanup of the Fryingpan River.

You might not think that spending a morning picking up trash would be a popular activity, but in Basalt — at least, once a year — when it comes to the 21st annual Fryingpan River Cleanup this Saturday, April 27, it’s practically the social event of the season.

“Last year, with a few inches of snow on the ground, we still had 200 people show up,” said Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, which is hosting the cleanup. “Two years ago, with decent weather, we had over 300.”

It helps that the focus of the cleanup is beautifying its namesake, one of the town’s two beloved gold-medal rivers, and the large volunteer turnouts mean there are enough people to clean up stretches of the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, too. So as summer rolls in and anglers from all over show up, both fisheries will be looking their best.

“It sends a message to visiting anglers from around the state or around the country or around the world that Basalt and this community and, certainly, the Roaring Fork Conservancy care a lot about the rivers,” said Lofaro. “We’re the only town in America that has two gold-medal rivers running right through it, so it rolls out a really nice welcome mat and says, ‘Welcome to Trout Town, U.S.A.’ ”

Lofaro encouraged people interested in volunteering to pre-register by visiting roaringfork.org/events, but everyone is welcome to register on Saturday morning at the event, too. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. near Lions Park and the back of Basalt Town Hall. All ages are welcome to participate. Things will kick off with a free pancake breakfast for all volunteers, and then, at around 9:15 a.m., groups of three or four will head out to their assigned stretches of river and start experiencing the joy of cleaning things up for a couple of hours.

“It’s immediate gratification,” said Lofaro. “There’s a piece of garbage; I’m going to pick it up and put it in this garbage bag.”

For some families, including Lofaro’s, the cleanup has become an annual ritual and something that they look forward to each spring. In fact, having helmed RFC for 21 years, Lofaro has missed just one cleanup ever, and that was only because his daughter was being born. Now turning 11, she’s been a part of the family tradition ever since.

Prizes will be awarded for Best of Trash, Most Toxic, Most Useful, Most Unusual Trash and Best Photo. The award winners will be announced in Lions Park at around 11:45 a.m., and the winners must be present to claim their prizes. The trash, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be there. In some cases, a photo will be acceptable to keep the trash finders from having to lug their garbage all the way back to downtown. Much of the trash will be bagged and left by the side of the road for Eagle County workers to pick up.

It’s hard to know just how much trash gets removed from the rivers each year, although Lofaro estimated it as between one and two tons. He also mentioned that in the past, such impressive items as an engine block from a car, half a canoe and tires have been found, but while those are fun to stumble upon, what matters even more is getting rid of the micro trash, the smaller, mostly plastic stuff that can pose a hazard to wildlife and waterways.

“Anything from discarded fishing line to bottles and cans and other smaller trash is the most important stuff we can pick up and get out of there,” said Lofaro. “Given the forever-ness of plastic, we need to recapture it and get it out of our oceans, rivers and streams.”

Perhaps the most intriguing prize category is Most Useful trash, a field which has seen some interesting contestants in the past.

“My favorite Most Useful was a big crescent wrench that came in,” said Lofaro. “And later that day we used it to tighten my friend’s trailer hitch before we put [a boat] on the river and went fishing after the cleanup.”

Seems fitting for Trout Town U.S.A., doesn’t it?

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.