University Hills volunteers clean up at High Line Canal

Residents say it is important to protect a community treasure

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Although high water levels in the canal prevented people from cleaning it out, that didn’t stop 57 volunteers from picking up 550 pounds of trash along a two-mile portion of the High Line Canal Trail.

Last month, the High Line Canal Conservancy hosted its first cleanup event of the season at Mamie D. Eisenhower Park in Denver, 4300 E. Dartmouth Ave., in the University Hills neighborhood.

Michelle Freeman, community outreach coordinator with the conservancy, is hoping to host more of these events to get people interested in the canal. As more people become interested, she believes community leaders will step in to organize their own cleanup events. The organization started with the University Hills neighborhood because the area has some of the nonprofit’s most dedicated volunteers.

“A clean area truly shows just how engaged a community is,” Freeman said. “We’re so excited to start off with them.”

The cleanup on April 6 started with Freeman and Josh Phillips, manager of community initiatives at the High Line Canal Conservancy, talking to volunteers about new projects that will be happening along the trails in Denver, as well as the importance of picking up trash.

Many residents that came to volunteer saw the benefits of a clean trail. Lyn Jenkins, who has lived in the area for eight years, said it was nice to come out and participate.

“It’s important to me to protect it,” she said of the trail and canal.

Several projects are lined up for the canal to improve storm water retention in the area, Phillips said. There will also be better wayfinding signage along the Denver portions of the trail and improved safety crossings near major streets.

Freeman told volunteers that even though they may not find large trash items, the small trash, such as cigarette butts and pieces of plastic, can often be the most harmful to the environment.

“Those are often the pieces that tend to be overlooked,” Freeman said.

Many volunteers brought their children, seeing it as an opportunity to teach them about community work.

Stephanie Font and her daughter Isa, 4, joined their neighbors Michael Mersmann with his two children, Ellie, 5, and Dominic, 2. Mersmann heard about the event through his wife, who has started getting invovled with the neighborhood association. He wanted to take his kids to show them what volunteering is about.

Font agreed.

“I just want her to get a sense of responsibility,” she said about her daughter, “and it’s a great opportunity to be able to get out here and help with the community.”

Further down the trail, Liam Avery was picking up trash with his mom, Stephanie. Liam, who is 9, said he was working on a service project for school, but that his family also walks the canal frequently. Cleaning trash from the trail was an opportunity to give back. If the area is free of trash, he said, it will be better for the animals.

“I like helping as much as I can,” Liam said. “It’s such a wonderful place with so many diverse ecosystems.”

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