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Volunteers and District lead riverside clean-up after province's inaction

A former camp occupant at the camp has apologized for the mess left at flooded site

Volunteers and District staff came forward this week to clean up debris from a former homeless camp beside the Mamquam River, despite the site being a provincial responsibility.

On Tuesday morning, a group of around 10 volunteers and a number of District staff were on site in the woods, raking through sand and picking up debris.

Volunteers gathered on Friday, Monday and Tuesday to move the debris before snow and a cold forecast could freeze everything in.

Carl Halvorson, chair of the Squamish Environmental Society, said concerned citizens felt forced to act before another highwater event. 

While multiple local groups had been aware and concerned about the abandoned camp, no one wanted to set a precedent of rushing in to clean it up because it is technically the province’s responsibility. 

A dated notice found on the site confirmed the Ministry of Natural Resources has known about the situation for well over six months, but a spokesperson told The Chief that the wildfire crisis delayed any cleanup plans.

In November, the camp flooded, creating a mess of debris – ranging from plastics to batteries, paper, wood and clothing – that spread wide into the forest and the Mamquam River.

“The scary part is, in the future, they might think volunteers will just come clean it up. We don’t think it’s our job to clean it up, but it could wash further into the river, so we had to,” said Halvorson.

A crew of paid District staff were also on site Tuesday working and supplying tools and safety supplies. A municipal digger and dump truck were being used to help remove waste once volunteers dragged it through the forest.

The man who was living in the setup, whom The Chief is choosing not to name, made contact with the newspaper to apologize for the mess. “I never intended for that to happen, I feel so badly about it,” said the man, who was born and raised in Squamish and said he appreciates and trails and nature. 

He said at one point up to six people were living by the river, and well-meaning friends would drop off supplies. He said while he tried to keep the area organized, animals, flooding and vandalism made it a constant struggle. “It got overwhelming,” he said.