CASPER, Wyo. — With giant gloves on his tiny hands, 5-year-old Oliver Soulek picked up a popped balloon along the western bank of the North Platte River on Saturday.
The industrious child smiled as he threw it into a garbage bag filled with rubbish that had come from the area near the Mike Lansing Baseball Field in Casper. A few seconds later he found a 64-ounce plastic cup. The height of the container was nearly half the size of the young boy’s arm.
“He loves to clean,” said Michelle Soulek, Oliver’s mother. “I guess I am just lucky.”
The Soulek family joined 400 other volunteers who spent Saturday morning cleaning the channels, flows, banks and floodplains of the North Platte.
The event is known as the Platte River Revival and coordinates with National Public Lands Day. The revival is the largest event in the nationwide cleanup effort.
It is in its seventh year and prior to Saturday had spurred the removal of 1.1 million pounds of trash from the North Platte, said Pete Meyers, public information officer for the city of Casper.
Cars, refrigerators and tires were some of the more common items removed from the river in years past, Meyers said. One year, volunteers found a safe. An old city dump that has since been reclaimed was the culprit for a lot of the larger items that made a home in the North Platte. People would go there and just throw stuff in, Meyers said.
“There’s been a real sea change to the quality of the river,” he said. “This organized event has helped to raise awareness and decrease the amount of (trash) flowing into the river.”
The event is also an arm of the city’s Platte River Revival Restoration Project. Known as the master plan, the project aims to provide the river with greater bank protection, reduced sedimentation and improved wildlife habitats.
The city provided 15 boats, waders, tongs and a seemingly infinite amount of black garbage bags to the volunteers.
The fleet of boats worked its way from the Parkway Plaza Hotel dock area and careened southeast from bank to bank to pick up trash in areas that would be difficult to reach on foot. As the boats maneuvered through the water, crews in waders would receive handoffs of black trash bags and load them into trucks.
One of the boat captains spotted a single shoe as he cruised down the river. He yanked it out.
“Now I need the left one,” he said.
A team of three fire science majors from Casper College were wading in the water to get some of the trash bags from the boats.
“There’s a lot of fast-food wrappers and beer cans coming out of the water,” said Tyler Patterson, one of the Casper College students.
Another bag had pizza boxes and saturated bed linens.
More than 30 students from Centennial Junior High School volunteered.
“We got 30 pop cans so far,” said eighth grader Garret Branstetter. He was a little more than an hour into the workday.
Branstetter said his love of science and fishing brought him out of bed on a Saturday morning to help keep the North Platte clean.
“I want to keep the river clean for the fish,” he said.
Six-year-old Jordan Pomroy designated herself as a remover of cigarette butts from the lush banks of the river. It was her third year on the job. She thinks cigarettes are disgusting.
When the young girl spotted one on the ground, she would take the tongs — which were about half her height — and put a butt in the garbage bag her mother held.
“She can’t believe how many there are,” said Jill Pomroy, Jordan’s mother.
The revival wasn’t just about removing trash from the river. Volunteers also put wire wrap around trees to prevent beavers from attacking them and damming the river.
Another effort is to remove the willowy and sage colored Russian olive trees, an invasive species that sucks up water, chokes out native species and changes salt content in the soil.