A skeleton, an alien, a dinosaur and more were spotted in boats cruising the Columbia Slough in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 29, 2023. Fortunately for residents, these aquatic Thrillers comprised a team of volunteers from the Columbia Slough Watershed Council and Mosquito Fleet. And they were more interested in collecting trash than the souls of the living.

The cleanup took place at the boat launch at the corner of NE Glassplant Road and NE Alderwood Road. Armed with grabbers, buckets and a dumpster donated by Budget Dumpster, the nearly 30 community members removed 15 yards of trash from the waterway in just two hours. It marked the final event of the year for the nonprofit’s expanding cleanup program.

What Is the Columbia Slough Watershed Council?

The council earned its 501c3 nonprofit status in 2002, but its efforts have been ongoing since the 1990s, according to its website. Responding to pollution, rampant development and a loss of open space, the citizen-led organization took shape in 1994, taking on issues like storm water, combined sewer overflows regulation, recreation trail protection, transportation planning and more.

The 19-mile Columbia Slough is in the floodplain of the Columbia River in Oregon. It runs from its source in Fairview, through Gresham and Portland to the Willamette River, which connects to the Columbia River.

The Watershed Council protects and enhances the Columbia Slough through community engagement, education and restoration efforts, says Community Outreach and Event Director Amanda Gallegos. While cleanup efforts include removing trash from natural areas, riverfront spaces, dead-end streets and other on-land locations, most of the cleanups take place on the water, she says. Volunteers can bring their own boats, or make use of boats, paddles and life jackets provided by the Watershed council.

Volunteers in Boat Picking Trash From Waterway
Image courtesy of Columbia Slough Watershed Council

Breaking Records in 2023

From January until the Halloween cleanup in October, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council enjoyed a record-breaking year of trash removal, Gallegos says. Hundreds of community volunteers across 18 cleanups removed 186 yards of trash and debris from the Columbia Slough. That includes the nearly 30 volunteers who filled Budget Dumpster’s donated bin with 15 yards of trash during the October cleanup.

In addition to cleanups that are open to the public, the Watershed Council hosted its Queers for a Cleaner Slough cleanup in June and a September cleanup centered on the local Black, indigenous and other people of color, or BIPOC community.

“Providing community members with an opportunity to explore and learn about the Slough while also volunteering creates a unique connection to these natural spaces. The hope is that through these events, we at the Watershed Council can facilitate and encourage deeper connections with natural spaces, as well as with others in the community also doing this work.”

Amanda Gallegos, Community Outreach and Event Director | Columbia Slough Watershed Council
Volunteers in Boat Gathered at River Bank
Image courtesy of Columbia Slough Watershed Council

Volunteer Spotlight

Within the overall cleanup program is Eyes on the Slough, a volunteer program that allows residents to adopt a section within the watershed to care for throughout the year.

In 2023, this program included volunteers Mike Beymer, Bill Bradford, Bob Dolphin, Michelle Galaria, Zora Hess, Adam Reese, Annabelle Reese and Paul Taylor. These individuals worked countless hours to enhance the Slough and surrounding area, which made a huge difference in the watershed, Gallegos says. Since September 2020, Taylor alone clocked more than 2,135 hours on the water cleaning the Columbia Slough.

“I started cleaning up the Slough three years ago because it was just so disheartening to kayak along the waterway and see so much trash in the water and along the banks. Since then, there has been a huge effort by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council and others to detrash the Slough, and a lot of progress has been made. I learned early on that picking up trash was the easy part; getting rid of it was the challenge. So when community partners like Budget Dumpster step up and help with the disposal of trash, it’s just simply awesome, and I’m entirely grateful!”

Paul Taylor, Volunteer | Eyes on the Slough Program

If you live in the greater Portland, Oregon, area and want to help, please visit the Columbia Slough Watershed Council’s event calendar or its Eyes on the Slough information page.

Junk Pile at River Bank
Image courtesy of Columbia Slough Watershed Council

Ready to Get Involved?

Budget Dumpster is happy to help nonprofits and community groups like the Columbia Slough Watershed Council get their hands dirty for a cleaner environment. Check out our dumpster donation program to see how you can get an in-kind dumpster to dispose of litter. And don’t forget to check out our guides for Planning a River Cleanup and Planning a Community Cleanup. We’d love to tell your story one day.