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Napa’s parks and open spaces can seem like pristine places for relaxation at first glance. But on the morning of Earth Day, teams of volunteers looked deeper – with protective gloves, grabber claws and buckets in hand.

At Kennedy Park, the Oxbow District and other parts of the city, some 150 people gave two hours of their Sunday morning to pick up the trash and scraps littering what should be the community’s quieter spots. Their efforts revealed not only the too-common bane of food wrappers, cans, needles and other leavings carelessly tossed aside, but much larger throwaways – up to car wheels and carpets – that reminded some volunteers why their work remains necessary, nearly half a century after the first Earth Day.

“We really appreciate it; they’re here because it’s a day of advocacy and action and awareness,” said Margaret Smetana, who captained a cleanup drive around the Kennedy Park boat launch. Other residents pitched in to remove waste at the wetlands off South Jefferson Street, as well as downtown Napa Creek and Salvador Creek, in an effort coordinated by the Napa County Resource Conservation District.

Smetana, who attended an ecological fair in San Rafael during the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, planned to have her team record the results of what they found and send it to state officials as a measure of the site’s environmental health. “These are citizen scientists and naturalists, and we want them to do the sorting themselves, so they can see exactly what people are letting out of their hands,” she said as men, women and small children combed grasslands, trails and picnic grounds nearby.

“I like volunteering; I like to make things better,” said Valerie Cameron, one of several workers from Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford helping to clean Kennedy Park. “Napa’s a beautiful place and we need to keep it that way, because a lot of people don’t appreciate what we have.”

Beside a blue tote for recyclable materials and a black one for scraps headed for the landfill, the pile of decidedly unbeautiful discoveries steadily rose on a blue tarpaulin. Tires from a car and a bicycle were placed on the sheet within the first 10 minutes, later to be joined by a plastic pipe, whole and partial garbage cans and innumerable fast-food bags and boxes.

“Clothes, wine bottles, plastic …” said Ryan Broderick, co-captain of the Kennedy Park cleanup as he looked through the refuse that volunteers had collected. “Bags of food … used food …”

Volunteers removed a total of more than 1,600 pounds of trash, 1,200 pounds of recyclables, and 600 pounds of compostable material during the morning cleanups, according to Jemma Williams, program assistant for the conservation district. A particularly large source of waste was an abundance of cigarette butts in the Oxbow area near the Napa River, she said.

“This is the No. 1 pollutant found for both Earth Day and coastal cleanup days, and it’s still a big problem in Napa, especially when so many public places are right next to the river,” Williams said in an email.

Meanwhile in downtown Napa, a variety of environmental and nonprofit groups were pitching their booths at the Oxbow Commons for the city’s Earth Day festival, where hundreds of visitors would enjoy food, drink and music as well as education over the next five hours.

Before the fair’s 11 a.m. opening, however, other people continued toiling away with their buckets and grabbers to clear a stretch of riverbank that looked less scenic up close than from a distance.

In the Oxbow District, members of the Napa Youth Stewardship Council were returning from their labors with examples of the area’s more egregious littering. Within sight of people heading for the Earth Day fair or simply the food and drink at the Oxbow Public Market were a woman’s purse, a dog bed, a wood-and-metal chair – and even two whole carpets.

Guadalupe Garcia, the captain of the Oxbow cleanup, mused about the morning’s discoveries.

“”It’s pretty surprising there’s still people who are dumping things like old carpets, old tires,” she said. “I feel like we’re at a point now where it should be common sense to take it to a landfill, to dispose of it properly. But it’s probably why we’re out here today, doing what we do.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.