It’s still relatively quiet along the lower Salt River. An occasional trout or bass stirs up soft ripples on the water’s surface, and a stilt-legged bird steps gingerly in and out of tall grass growing at the river’s edge.
But soon the tranquility of this scenic spot northeast of Mesa will give way to another kind of wildlife: the 100,000 or so “tubers” who float down the river each year on an inner tube, looking for a sun tan and a good time.
Opening day at Salt River Tubing and Recreation is Saturday, and the outfitter is marking 30 years of providing tubes and shuttle service on the river.
They’ve also been providing something else much of that time: a clean-up service.
“Five days a week, two sets of canoes patrol the river from Points One to Four, which is what tubers float, picking up floating refuse or litter against the shore. Our beach patrol also goes out five days a week on the shorelines, picking up after picnickers,” says owner Lynda Breault, whose red-headed cartoon likeness you may recognize from billboards.
It’s a dichotomy that in a place people flock to for its beauty and wildness — if you’re lucky, you can spot eagles, herons, bobcats, coyotes, javelina and even wild horses there — people still need a garbage man to clean up after them 40 hours per week.
The patrol is one of many efforts Breault and her husband, Henri, have implemented to, in her words, “live our mission statement”: promoting conservation and protection of the natural resources by which they make their living.
Over the years, the Breaults (whose outdoorsy origins go back to 1941, when Henri’s parents started a tubing outfit on the Apple River in Somerset, Wis.) have backed up that talk. SRTR has earned four Take Pride in America National Awards from the U.S. Department of the Interior. The honors recognize outstanding stewardship projects or awareness efforts involving federal, state and local lands and waters.
SRTR hosts several events each summer that reward tubers for collecting trash. Since 1996, they’ve handed out litter bags every day along with their inner tubes.
It’s made a difference.
“Years ago, we used to do an annual clean-up, because it was just a mess out there. Once we started handing out litter bags on a daily basis and holding public events, we saw a 90 percent decrease in the amount of trash picked up on annual clean-up days. In 1995, we collected around 27 tons of trash. By 1999, we were only getting 2.5 tons of trash,” says Breault.
The couple say more tubers seem to care about looking after the waterway these days. But there are those they’ll never reach.
“I wish I could say that everybody comes out there thinking ‘green,’ but at least 10 percent don’t do that. Having the presence of our patrols out there, showing people that someone is taking care of the river, we know it’s getting through to some of them, but not to those that never learned to pick up after themselves and take responsibility.”
Last year, the Breaults brought four members of their Canoe and Beach Patrol teams to accept their latest award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“Those two patrols — it’s not a nice job, but they love what they do. To get out on Canoe Patrol is a very envied, prestigious job within the company. They really get into it, and they’re very committed to it,” says Breault.
If only we would all care so much.
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