GLAMIS — It was a usual practice for Brawley resident Rita Solorzano to volunteer during the dunes’ annual clean up.
“But she couldn’t make it this year,” said her sister, Bernice Nuñez, also from Brawley. “She passed away on Christmas Eve.”
In Solorzano’s memory, about 20 of her family members decided to come to the Dunes Clean Up on Saturday.
“We are trying to start a tradition,” Nuñez said, referring to her family.
“This is my first time coming” to the cleanup, said Brawley resident Carlos Villalobos. Rita Solorzano was his aunt, Villalobos said moments after signing up, getting a plastic bag and putting on a T-shirt of the event.
“I’m coming to do this for my tía,” he said moments before the whole family went out to the dunes.
This year was the event’s 15th anniversary, said park ranger Michelle Puckett.
“Last year we had over a thousand volunteers,” she said.
The promotion of health and safety in the dunes is much more stressed this year, Puckett said, with agencies such as the California Border Patrol, and the DeAnza Search and Rescue Unit setting up informational tables near the cleanup registration table.
It’s important to wear seatbelts when driving and maintaining the speed limit of 15 mph within 50 feet of people or camps, Puckett said.
The event is a joint effort of many agencies but mainly organized by the United Desert Gateway, said Charla Teeters, program manager of this nonprofit that focuses on dune safety and litter education.
For each full bag of trash turned in, volunteers got a ticket for one of more than 250 prizes. Prizes were awarded at the conclusion of the cleanup around 11:30 a.m.
This year the dunes seemed cleaner compared to last year, said Brad Lemert, a volunteer and Brawley resident who’s been attending the clean up for eight years. More people are becoming aware that it’s important to keep the dunes clean, he said.
“It’s pretty clean,” said volunteer Lizeth Delgado, an Arcadia resident who’s been coming to the dunes during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend for many years.
But trash is still found easily scattered around. In fact, her son Manuel Delgado, 7, and niece Celeste Sanchez, 11, were taking apart an abandoned tent a few feet from her.
“If the dunes are dirty then you can’t really have fun,” said Celeste. She was cleaning up the dunes “to help the earth,” Celeste said as she put pieces of the tent in a bundle.
Old glass, toys, tools, used fireworks and even a car have been found buried in the desert, said Temecula resident Cliff Shank.
Shank and four neighbors volunteer every year.
“There is a lot of junk” Shank said, “(but) everyone is saying that there isn’t a lot of trash this year.”
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org