For years now, I only remember the L.A. River clean-up the day after it happens. Wake up on a Sunday morning, and think, “It was yesterday? I missed it again!” It's not as if I couldn't go down to the river with a couple big trash bags almost any day and just cart away some of it on my own. No, no, I keep waiting for river clean-up day.

This year I was finally successful. Maybe the river has just been on my mind a lot. There was the Arroyo Seco art project that Gloria Molina had blasted away. There's been the problem of Eric Garcetti's office cutting down a lot of plants in the river in a possibly misguided effort to control growth of the bamboo-like arundo donax that Jay Babcock has been following at his Nature Trumps blog. And there was the helpful reminder before Speed Racer at Laemmle Theatres from Friends of LA River that the clean-up was Saturday, May 17.

Temperatures were supposed hit 100, so we showed up before 9 near a natural-bottom stretch of the river near San Fernando Rd. with gloves, hats and lots of water.

The very helpful FOLAR folks equipped us with bags and snacks, and sent us on our way. It turns out there was a whole grove of palm trees in the river bed giving plenty of shade, so it wasn't nearly as unbearable as we thought it might be. The trees are also good at catching a lot of the two billion plastic bags we came across.

We went back and forth for hours in just a very small area: First pick out dozens of plastic bags, then when that gets too frustrating, switch to digging out some huge piece of trash:

… such as this tire, a tent, blankets, and bicycles. Then it was back to the little bags. It was relatively uncrowded for the first hour or so, then the Bank of America forces arrived.

A crew from KTLA wandered through the river banks interviewing some people.

The camera guy, Arin, took a tumble, but came through with just a head bump and a scraped up knee.

So did we get it all? Not even close. But it was surprisingly enjoyable and seeing bag after bag of garbage hauled away was very satisfying.

Underutilized, ignored or made fun of, the L.A. River gets little respect from us. But huge parts of the river are absolutely beautiful, with great bird-watching, bike paths and quiet areas to escape city noise. And thanks to FOLAR and hundreds of volunteering Los Angelenos, it's a little cleaner today too.

Click here for more photos of the L.A. River cleanup and the trash that got fished out.

LA Weekly