The day after Christmas, volunteers with trash bags, heavy gloves and loppers picked up where they left off almost a year before. Led by Brady Chandler of Seaside Community Cleanup, a Facebook group, they cleared tires, sodden mattresses, piles of hypodermic needles and trash buried in the wet ground or in shrubbery and trees.
“This is a nightmare,” Chandler said, pointing to a trash dump just off the trail on the Avenue S side near the city recycling center. “We pulled every piece of glass and batteries out of here in February. It’s all back. We’re finding 20-packs of needles just dropped in the mud, not even open.”
Seaside’s Jesse Anderson launched the Seaside Community Cleanup early last year after walking his dog near the Tillamook Boat Launch on the Necanicum River south of the city when he found used hypodermic needles littered amidst piles of trash.
Anderson’s efforts drew volunteers and assistance from the Public Works Department, teaming up to collect 50 yards of trash — 26 tons — the amount of garbage equivalent to a Fourth of July cleanup.
In the aftermath of coronavirus restrictions, cleanup efforts were sporadic.
Illegal campers returned to the Mill Ponds, or never left.
Art in the Park, a program designed to attract visitors and raise awareness of the park’s scenic beauty, was canceled in April.
City Council members made addressing homelessness a priority and discussed the issue at a November meeting.
Only when behaviors cross over to littering, fighting in public or violations of open container laws can police issue citations, Police Chief Dave Ham said. Enforcement is limited to housing, mental health or drug addiction resource referrals.
A follow-up workshop on homelessness, designed to include diverse members of the community, was postponed indefinitely as a result of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, volunteer efforts to clean up the Mill Ponds resumed.
Chandler, accompanied by his wife, Alex, and dog, “Sirius,” made regular visits to the area, offering garbage bags at his own expense for those living or camping in the ponds and designating an area near U.S. Highway 101 for collection.
The Facebook page swelled to almost 400 members, with members from Seaside, throughout Clatsop County and beyond.
In early December, Chandler invited volunteers to help load and remove garbage that had piled up throughout the park. He trimmed trees along pathways to enable trailers to load up in the interior.
The day after Christmas, Seaside’s Parker McCarthy donated his time and a tractor, joining Chandler and volunteers to remove trash from an area likely to be flooded.
After mid-January storms, at least one of the camps was abandoned, likely due to flooding issues, Chandler said. “There was certainly some garbage that floated away, but our effort in December had a massive reduction in the trash that did float away. I wasn’t expecting a 36-inch water level rise, to be honest.”
Another Mill Ponds volunteer cleanup is scheduled Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Chandler said. Event guidelines and a sign up are available on the Seaside Community Cleanup Facebook page. The city will be providing a dumpster and cost of garbage disposal.
Chandler said he is seeing a growing awareness of the public safety issues in the park and the cleanup effort has new momentum this time. “I feel like people are finally realizing what’s going on and starting to pay more attention to it.”
The trails remain steady, he added, and with a few days of no rain before the cleanup, shouldn’t be too muddy.
“Jan. 30 is my 30th birthday,” he said. “I would rather spend it on the mountain in the snow, but this is important.”