The Puyallup Riverwalk Trail’s scrubbed pavements, wiped marker signs, planted flowers, shoveled woodchips and litter-free path are accomplished behind the scenes by an informal, local walking group.
Friends of the Puyallup Riverwalk have been trekking the trails, particularly the namesake trail, to ensure the parks are as beautiful as possible for almost a decade, said Bill Hilton, the group’s chair.
“If you can help the city of Puyallup, I think you help them spread the resources,” he told The Puyallup Herald.
City Council members and residents have complained of unclean trails as a result of homeless encampments, but it’s volunteers who have been spending their time cleaning up the trails at little cost to the city.
While some have claimed the trail along the Puyallup River is polluted with trash as the homeless population has increased in the city, including Council member Jim Kastama, the volunteers say that isn’t the case. Most of the collected trash is sporadic litter, like soda cans, empty bottles and food wrappers, volunteer Carolyn Warhol said.
“There are times it’s bad from camps, but I don’t think you can point a finger at one group of people and say that’s their problem,” Hilton said.
At least once a month, the volunteers meet to add chopped birch bark to garden beds, plant flowers along the trail and clean the benches, pavement and tables. There are times when people can dump furniture or bags of clothing, so the volunteers call the city to pick up heavy loads, Hilton said.
Kastama said the work that the volunteer group his parents were a part of has been invaluable. He said he believes the biggest trash deterrent has been the consistency of the group.
“The greatest impact is one drum beat at a time,” the District 1 council member said. “Volunteers and involved residents are the bedrock of the community.”
The city equips volunteers with trash grabbers and 5-gallon buckets as they walk along the trail for about an hour.
“We chit-chat and get social and clean what we see, then sometimes we go get lunch,” Warhol said.
The city coordinates the Adopt-A-Trail program for other trails as well, said Sarah Harris, Parks and Recreation director. The city divided the 5-mile Riverwalk Trail into adoptable sections. The stretch from 11th Street to the Puyallup River Bridge is cleaned at least once a month by the informal volunteer group.
Hilton and Warhol said they understand the city’s resources are tight, so they are willing to volunteer their time to do what they can.
“It’s a joint effort,” Warhol said. “I do think it should be that way. The trail users should be stewards of the parks.”
While the trail is kept clean, Kastama would like to remind visitors to remain vigilant and stay safe.