By the end of the day a city Dumpster was not quite enough to contain all of the garbage taken out of Deer Canyon.
A crowd of 92 volunteers--mostly mountain bikers, but also workers from Shasta Landscape Co.--showed up on Saturday morning to clean up the trash-plagued canyon in the Del Mar Mesa preserve. Sponsored by the city and the San Diego Mountain Bike Association, the volunteers cleared the canyon for five hours.
The preserve has been shut off to public access since December as a new resource management plan is being developed. Participants essentially became city employees for the day by signing a waiver to gain access. The crew broke up into three groups to tackle different portions of the canyon.
Picking up the loads of trash was the easy part. Hauling it back up to the Dumpster on Camino Del Sur was what made it work. In one area of the cleanup, volunteers bearing heavy loads had to cross a narrow yet slippery creek and scale a steep embankment.
Minette Ozaki, president of the mountain bike association, said it was helpful that so many of the volunteers were athletes used to pushing up big hills.
Within five minutes of getting down onto the trail, trash bags were already filled to the brim.
"It would take all day to fill a bag like this in Del Mar," volunteer Karen Tipler said. "The way I look at it is this all heads downstream, so I'm protecting my beach, too."
The trash and debris was even worse inside the "tunnel trails," named for their seclusion within a tunnel of trees and shrubs.
It was in the tunnels where migrant workers made their homes--many encampments were still there for the volunteers to tear down. Mountain bikers removed tarps that had been slung over trees and wooden spikes.
Remnants of migrants' former homes were everywhere. There were lobster traps and plastic cartons, piles of wood, shoes, toothbrushes and clothing that had been there so long it had become part of the dirt.
There were endless numbers of rusted tin cans, shattered glass, tires, shopping carts and a children's rocking horse that had given one tunnel its "Rocking Horse Trail" name.
Workers took out debris as large as pieces of a car; another person found a bike.
Jim Cantwell found a hose that at one time brought water into the canyon--he cut it out of the ground with a knife.
"I've been riding over this for years," Cantwell said.
Many of the volunteers had seen the debris before when on rides or hikes but remarked they had no idea it went so far into the canyon. They had to duck under tree branches and through cobwebs to get at more and more trash.
What made the tunnels such an ideal hidden living place for migrants is also what drew mountain bikers to the spot. It's a beautiful trail, shielded from the sun with a rolling, jumping terrain that challenged riders.
Riders said when down in the tunnels they couldn't hear a single car on the freeway or spy a single house.
"There's just nothing like it," said mountain biker Amy Harris, who used to ride the tunnels with a group of friends every Thursday.
Harris made a pained face when asked what it would be like if it were to be closed forever.
"Why can't we be here? We're not doing any harm," said Harris, stopping to motion at the debris that surrounded her. "Nothing like this, anyway."