‘Absolutely disgusting’: Dozens blitz Beatton valley for spring cleanup

Rusty Meidlinger hasn’t spent much time in the Beatton River valley since moving to Fort St. John five years ago, but he certainly knows how easy it is for families to be driven away from the once popular recreation area a short drive north of town.

In fact, his second visit to the valley last Sunday afternoon was spent alongside dozens of others to clean up and cart out a burned out camper, innumerable glass shards, beer cans and coffee cups, mattresses, and discarded construction materials that have piled up along the river and adjacent Cecil Lake Road.

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“This is absolutely disgusting,” Meidlinger said, as he gathered up a handful of discarded coffee cups and pop bottles scattered about the camper.

When it was all said and done, an estimated 10 truck loads of garbage were carried out, a donated dumpster was crammed to the top, and the camper was dismantled and carried out on a flatbed. 

“It makes me kind of sad for people who want to use this (area),” Meidlinger said. 

“If you have kids and want to come play down here, you’re going to have to limit where they can go. You’re going to have to be conscious of them stepping on glass and rusty metal, and getting tetanus or something.

“People have pets they want to walk down here,” he added.

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Brandon Roberts and Jon Esselink tear up concrete construction materials discarded near the Beatton River. - Matt Preprost

Local group hopes message and motivation will spread

Like most everyone who turned out Sunday, Meidlinger was drawn to the cleanup by a new community group called We Are The People, which put a call out on social media.

“If everyone just did something small, if everyone just did something like this, you’re going to feel better about your contributions but as well as knowing that the next people who are going to come down here will have a slightly cleaner place to hang out and party or whatever,” Meidlinger said.

“No one has a problem coming out and having some beers or whatever, but everyone seems to have a problem with cleaning up after themselves.”

The cleanup was organized by Devynn Wiebe, who can be found at the Beatton River with her girlfriend, daughter, and five dogs on the weekends during the summer.

The Beatton River is the second cleanup Wiebe’s newly formed group, We Are The People, has targeted and tackled this month. The first spot was the ever-popular Peace River lookout at the south end of 100 Street, and the group will likely return there in short order to clean up discarded refuse scattered along the hills below.

“What motivates me the most is anger,” Wiebe said.

“I look around and I know a lot of people are thinking, ‘Oh, somebody should get on that, somebody should call the city, somebody should call YRB, or PRRD, or whatever, somebody should really clean that up.’

“Well, it’s not somebody. We are the people to do that, and just take action. Clean it up. You can, so just do it, don’t wait for somebody else to do it.”

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Jess Neumann carries around her young son Jack during a cleanup of the Beatton River valley on May 7. - Matt Preprost

'Here to help'

Also among those who turned out Sunday to help were Jess Neumann and Saren Fassmann of the local chapter of Soldiers of Odin. Around a dozen members of the chapter were the first to arrive to support the efforts and highlight the group’s community volunteerism.

“We just want people to know that we are here to help,” said Fassmann, the chapter’s vice-president.

“There’s a lot of controversy in the press about us, but its bogus. The media has put a spin on us that’s bad. I joined to help people and to step up to the plate for people who can’t help themselves.”

Neumann, meanwhile, carried her young son Jack on her back during the cleanup. 

“My husband has been coming here for years and we wanted our little guy to be able to enjoy it too,” she said.

More families would be inclined to spend time camping in the valley if it was maintained and kept clean—if you bring it in, take it out, she preached.

“It’s one thing for people that are adults, hanging out, drinking, whatever. But when you’ve got kids, it’s a huge negative impact,” she said. 

“People are going to be more hesitant to bring their kids out here. So at least when we clean it up, more people are going to want to bring their families out and make it more of a family location.”

Wiebe, who moved from the Kelowna area to Fort St. John around five years ago, hopes her group can spread to communities across Canada.

“Hopefully we can move across Canada and motivate little communities to just do stuff,” she said.

“Even if it’s one weekend out of the year, at least you’re getting out and helping your community—and it’s fun.”

Her girlfriend, Amber Alexander, chimed in with a simple message: “Please think about the Earth—she gives us so much, the least we can do is clean up after ourselves.”

To learn more or to get involved in a future community initiative, search for We Are The People on Facebook. 

editor@ahnfsj.ca

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Karen and Gillian Wuthrich gather shards of glass discarded next to an old, spoiled mattress. - Matt Preprost

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