by Allison Mueller & Elizabeth Pulanco – photos by Taylor Nyman
When spring arrives in Winona, the melting snow reveals a layer of trash. The beginning of this season is when the City of Winona Fire Department and the Winona Parks and Recreation Department work together to remove garbage and tidy up Garvin Heights and other parks.
According to Chad Ubl, director of Community Services for the City of Winona’s Parks and Recreation Department, the park maintenance department does daily trash runs for the park system, which includes Garvin Heights. He said the department needs assistance with items that require heaving lifting. Due to its access to machinery and on-call employees, the park maintenance team works with the Winona Fire Department.
On Wednesday, April 5, at 6 p.m., the two departments met at Garvin Heights to participate in the annual cleanup.
Joel Corcoran, assistant fire chief, said they have collaborated with the park maintenance department for the Garvin Heights cleanup for 15 years. Corcoran said he coordinates with park maintenance and organizes the event.
Ubl and park maintenance crew member Jon Mullen said the crew of 10 to 20 on-call fire department participants and the few park maintenance employees gather and dispose of 500 to 600 pounds of garbage during each cleanup.
Due to the use of equipment and climbing required to retrieve the trash, the only people who participate in the cleanup are employees from the park maintenance department and fire department.
The cleanups take place during the spring, Corcoran said, after the snow melts and before the trees and bushes bloom. Due to weather delays and staff changes, last year’s cleanup was cancelled.
“We got to it little too late in the spring season and the trees and bushes were growing up to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore,” Corcoran said. “We postponed the event until this year. There is a significant amount of garbage that you can see, and if you go below, there is even more.”
Both Ubl and Corcoran said the trash found is usually plastic bottles and food containers. Every once in a while, someone will dump large items such as a microwave, bike or shopping cart.
During the Wednesday cleanup, the fire department retrieved an old sofa that was thrown over the edge of the bluff as well as a broken TV.
Ubl said the litter is a sad illustration of what is happening at the Garvin Heights lookout.
“It is a place where many visitors come and overlook the cities and members of the community use the park as well. It is sad that we have individuals dump bikes and couches over the edge of a park,” Ubl said.
In order to bring up the sofa, the fire department set up the Arizona Vortex on the west end of Garvin Heights. This equipment is an artificial high directional system that serves as a tripod, which allowed the firefighters to rappel down the side of the bluff and attach pieces of the couch to be pulled up.
On the main lookout at Garvin Heights, a system of ropes and pulleys were set up to lower firefighters over the edge to place trash in buckets. A fire engine ladder was also used to bring up a tarp full of large items from further down the bluff. Workers below filled the tarp with trash, while others walked around the lookout picking up trash with garbage pickers.
According to Corcoran, the workers collected 320 pounds of garbage in this year’s haul. For the disposal of the trash, a garbage truck was parked near the lookout that could hold up to 2,000 pounds of waste, according to Mullen who was operating the truck. Ubl said park maintenance will recycle what they can, and other items are taken to the scrapyard.
In addition to helping clean the community, the fire department uses the cleanup event as a way to train employees with the rappelling equipment. By giving his staff a chance to use the equipment on the bluffs, Corcoran said he is helping his staff prepare for emergencies in the future.
“You can only do so much training within the fire station until it becomes unrealistic and redundant. Getting out and doing something like this gives us a chance to encounter the real-world problems that we have when we respond to an incident,” Corcoran said. “Unfortunately, things happen and people may fall or need assistance hiking and if the first time we’ve ever been up there is for an emergency like this, we are not as prepared. This is good, real world training for the future.”
Corcoran said the team was at Garvin Heights for nearly three hours cleaning up trash.
“We got most of what we intended on getting picked up that night. I believe it was successful,” Corcoran said. “It is a nice thing to do, not only for the community but for our training purposes. Keeping our parks looking nice and clean is important to all of us.”
Besides the annual Garvin Heights cleanup, the fire department and parks and recreation department work together on other projects.
When the parks and recreation department was looking to remove buckthorn, an invasive plant species, Ubl said they were able to receive a burn permit from the fire department.
“They gave us a burn permit and monitored the burn following the removal,” Ubl said.
The parks and recreation department and fire department have also collaborated to clean up the Sugar Loaf bluffs, according to Ubl.
“As a city we are trying our best to keep the parks clean and attractive for all the users, so we appreciate everybody’s assistance in helping us do that,” Ubl said. “Whether it is volunteers, or workers from the fire department.”
For Corcoran, the chance to clean up the community and provide his staff with hands-on training is meaningful and important.
“Being an employee of the city and a lifetime citizen of the community, I enjoy making it a little nicer,” Corcoran said. “I also enjoy having good, hands on training for the employees. It’s meaningful to people and they are more likely to learn something from it.”