The bushes rustle as Herb Warren emerges toting a trash picker and plastic bucket. The 65-year-old retiree ambles through the plants, snatching up the pieces of littered plastic, food wrappers and bottles along the stretch of Baxter Creek running through Booker T. Anderson Park.
This is Warren’s daily ritual.
“I feel good about myself,” Warren said as he picked up a discarded beer bottle in a dugout. “My father used to do it. He’s deceased. I feel close to him doing this.”
But not every section of Baxter Creek has a Herb Warren to help keep it clean.
Last week, Save the Bay highlighted the waterway in its list of Bay Trash Hot Spots for the fourth year, alongside Damon Slough in Oakland, Coyote Creek in San Jose, the Hayward Shoreline and San Tomas Aquino Creek in Santa Clara.
Save the Bay even created a “Hot or Not” style contest in which people vote online on the trashiest of the five hot spots. The quiz asks viewers to rate uncaptioned pictures of the five hot spots as “Hot Spot” or “Not.” Save the Bay will clean up the site with the most votes in 2013.
The section of Baxter Creek highlighted as a trash “hot spot” lies along San Pablo Avenue and the BART tracks, right on the border of El Cerrito, said Lynne Scarpa, Richmond’s stormwater program manager.
Scarpa said she hopes Baxter Creek wins the contest.
The creek is on the verge of a facelift, Scarpa said. When the city joins the Richmond Greenway with the Ohlone Trail in El Cerrito, the creek will be allowed to meander – as opposed to following the straight drainage channel now in place – and workers will plant native vegetation.
What the creek needs is a group of people to take ownership of abating the trash, Scarpa said.
“I would be very excited for Baxter Creek to win the trashiest because then we can draw attention to the new restoration and how (people) can get involved,” she said.
Last year, Oakland’s Damon Slough won with 290 votes.
“It makes a great picture and gets people engaged,” Scarpa said. “Our hope is that with the trash assessment that we do this year and the cleanups that we do this year that we can find a really great photograph and that maybe we’ll win next year.”
Juliana Gonzalez, the Healthy Watersheds Program manager at The Watershed Project, cautioned that Save the Bay’s list of hotspots was not based on scientific data.
“It’s not about which is the trashiest,” she said. “It’s not a matter of trash, it’s a matter of highlighting a hotspot.”
The Baxter Creek hotspot tends to have discarded cups and Styrofoam takeout containers, but not nearly as much trash as Wildcat Creek at Verde Elementary School, a hotspot for unincorporated Contra Costa County, or the El Sobrante Library, Gonzalez said.
Even with data collected during The Watershed Project’s cleanup efforts, it’s not easy to pinpoint “the trashiest” site. Some areas are scored by weight or volume of trash, whereas some are scored by the number of items. It all depends on the area’s problems – dumping, smoking or takeout containers – and volunteer hours, Gonzalez said.
In the 1990s, Baxter Creek was listed as an impaired waterway because of the amount of trash flowing through, Scarpa said. In 2009, with the introduction of new regional stormwater permits, Richmond had to identify hotspots to completely clean annually.
Two stretches of Baxter Creek were targeted: San Pablo Avenue and Booker T. Anderson Park. One was addressed successfully by the parks department and Herb Warren, Scarpa said.
As Warren walked through the park, he pointed his trash picker to the stretch of creek he keeps clean. He also cleans several blocks of his neighborhood “to keep property values up,” he said.
He started cleaning seven years ago when he would walk his late Rottweiler/pit-bull mix Scooby through the park.
“He’d come home nipping because he kept stepping on glass,” he said.
Warren’s time at the park was brief Wednesday morning. He had to meet his cousins for a game of dominoes, but he still had some work to do up the street where someone dumped some trash, he said.
His devotion hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“You’d be hard pressed nowadays to find 100 pieces of trash within 100 meters of stretch at Booker T. Anderson Park,” Scarpa said.