Tarnished river gets a polish 

Litter cleaned from River of Golden Dreams, police crackdown has impact

click to enlarge RIVER REFUSE  Backroads Whistler makes a litter run down to the River of Golden Dreams Saturday and comes up with a canoe full of garbage.
  • RIVER REFUSE Backroads Whistler makes a litter run down to the River of Golden Dreams Saturday and comes up with a canoe full of garbage.

From his every-day summertime perch on Whistler's waterways, Eric Wight watches thousands of people float down the River of Golden Dreams and it's not often he does a double take.

But when you see a drifting entourage of paddlers on a double air mattress followed by a blow-up turtle with an inflatable plastic dolphin taking up the rear, it makes you look twice.

He could but shake his head.

That was last year, the same year his employees at Backroads Whistler pulled 47 deflated and abandoned plastic rafts or tubes or boats from the river, in addition to the empty beer cans, broken paddles, car keys, cameras, helmet cams, plastic bags and flip-flops missing their partners.

"There's no question that since the floaty toys have been going down there, the amount of garbage and litter that we pick up is substantially more, for sure," said Wight, who has the municipal contract to run trips from Lakeside Park down the river.

On Saturday, two Backroads employees pulled out more than a dozen paddles, towels, cans, plastic bottles, flip-flops, a twenty-sixer of rye, among other things.

And, as water levels dip down further in the river this month, Wight expects to make one dedicated run each week to pick up garbage.

"We never used to have to do it that much but these last few years we do," he said.

Wight doesn't want to wade into the community debate, sparked by the recent police crackdown on the river enforcing the zero tolerance policy for booze on boats or floats but he is concerned about safety. The river issues — booze, safety, garbage, plastic detritus — appear, however, to go hand-in-hand.

"I think we're in the resort business and we're here to have fun whether you're in a floaty toy or you're a kayaker," said Wight. "Safety is my big thing."

In recent weeks police have confiscated and poured out hundreds of cans of beer and bottles of liquor and issued a handful of tickets.

The message appears to be out there, prompting not only the resort-wide debate, and, more importantly, quick changes on the river.

"It's noticeable right away," said Wight of the impact of the police enforcement.

RCMP Sergeant Rob Knapton said during those weeks of enforcement police found one guy who had 24 beers on board.

"At the end of the day, my concern is the guy who gets drunk and can't take care of himself and falls in, because people are falling in," said Knapton.

The enforcement is targeted and police are continuing to do spot checks.

"It's focused on when there's problems... We hear pretty quickly when people are showing up with cases of beer."

This week the municipality issued a press release reminding people to stay safe on the water and to keep the river clean. Specifically, to wear a life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD) while on a boat, inner tube, paddle board, raft or other floatation device and not to drink alcohol.

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