For the sixth year in a row, elementary school students from the central peninsula took a field trip to the Kenai River for the annual Kids Kenai River Spring Cleanup.
Nearly 650 students from seven schools in Sterling, Kenai and Soldotna participated in this year’s event, collecting hundreds of pounds of trash from five different parks along the Kenai River on Thursday and Friday, according to a press release from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
In addition to providing a service to the community and the environment, the schools compete to see which one can collect the most trash by weight, which means the kids were searching fervently for the biggest, heaviest piece of scrap metal to add to their collection. The event is organized by Alaska State Parks, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association and the Kenai Peninsula School District.
Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna was one of the first schools to participate in the river cleanup when it started six years ago, and fifth grade teacher Amy Utecht said that the school has won the weight competition almost every year. This year, the reigning champs returned to their now-traditional stomping ground of Swiftwater Park to comb the riverbank for refuse and see what interesting treasures they could find.
Beyond the mass of discarded fishing line and beer bottles, the Redoubt Elementary kids stumbled upon some truly unique objects that often raised the question, “How did this even get here?” Students Ella and Eddy found a perfectly intact, elephant-shaped piggy bank — an elephant bank, if you will — in the middle of the woods. Kenny claimed that he found four whole fishing poles. Beauden showed off a cellphone whose battery had died long ago. MJ found a rusty bucket, while Lydia discovered a fire pit full of broken glass (The adults took care of that one.)
Decked out with their safety vests, rubber gloves and plastic bags, the fourth, fifth and sixth graders of Redoubt Elementary could be seen in scattered groups along the river, up and down the boardwalk and everywhere in between. Shouts of “I found something!” were often followed by “I saw it first!” As several students pointed out, the person who first sees the trash gets to claim it and put it in their bag, so sharp eyes and quick hands were needed to come away with the biggest haul.
Not every piece of debris was small enough to fit in the plastic shopping bags, however, and students were often seen working together to carry heavy pieces of metal out from underneath the boardwalk. Where the metal came from was anyone’s guess, although some students speculated that they used to hold up the boardwalk. A group of sixth graders even managed to drag a broken back fender of a boat from out of the water, which was a big boon to their weight total.
By the end of the day, students were hauling their overflowing bags to the designated drop-off point before eating lunch and soaking up the sun on a beautiful day at Swiftwater Park. Many of the students expressed how this was their favorite field trip of the year, and those that had participated in the past said they look forward to it every spring.