Estimated 1,000 volunteers pick up trash in Don Valley as part of ravine cleanup

An estimated 1,000 volunteers are picking up trash in Toronto's Don Valley on Saturday as part of the city's annual spring cleanup.

Organizers pleased with turnout for 'Don't Mess with the Don' event on Saturday

Volunteer Jill Merriman carries garbage bags down the slope of a ravine in the Don Valley as part of the 'Don't Mess with the Don' cleanup on Saturday. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

An estimated 1,000 volunteers picked up trash in Toronto's Don Valley on Saturday in an event designed to clean up the ravine system connected to the Don River.

Spokespeople for the community group, "Don't Mess with the Don," which organized the ravine cleanup, say volunteers filled more than 1,600 garbage bags with waste. The event, which began at 10 a.m., continued until just after 4 p.m.

Irene Vandertop, a co-founder of the group, said volunteers noticed a proliferation of plastic bags as they stuffed green plastic and biodegradable burlap bags with debris. The turnout, she added, was a great success.

"We're spread out in a huge area. You can see, I've never seen so many people around picking up garbage," she told CBC Toronto.

Volunteers were expected to fill more than 3,000 garbage bags with waste. (Haweya Fadal/CBC )

People 'want a change,' organizer says

"I think people are fed up with the garbage situation in the city. It's not just the ravines. It's everywhere," she said.

"And the fact that they are coming out to the ravines, which are pretty hidden actually, is showing that they want a change and they want to make a difference. And that's what they're doing today, they're coming out. We are all responsible."

She noted that volunteers pulled trash out of hard-to-reach areas in the ravines and it was difficult to get the garbage out of the ravines because the hills were steep.

"We're not just collecting garbage from side of the trails and the side of the road," she said.

In an interview earlier, co-founder Lawrence Warriner said the amount of garbage in the Don Valley ravine system is substantial and the forested, steeply sloped ravines have practically become landfills.

A volunteer pulls garbage out of the mud from the side of ravine in the Don Valley on Saturday. (Haweya Fadal/CBC )

Volunteers, organized in teams of 15, fanned out into 12 ravines that are connected to the Don River.

All of the garbage was brought to a central collection point, where Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation is expected to pick it up.

Environment minister declined to attend event

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips was invited to attend the event, but his office said he had prior commitments, according to his press secretary Emily Hogeveen.

Phillips was scheduled to attend a community tree planting event in Ajax, an Earth Week event with the Earth Rangers, then a vigil for victims of the Sri Lankan bombings on Saturday, she said.

Ravines were given a letter of the alphabet as volunteers fanned out to pick up trash. (Haweya Fadal/CBC )

The ministry is expected to announce a provincial anti-litter day in the fall, but details are still being worked out.

According to the city, Toronto's annual spring cleanup is taking place this weekend and "Don't Mess with the Don" is part of that effort.

Ultimately, the community group would like to work with other interested parties, including the city, councillors, developers and property managers, to develop a conservancy model for the Don Valley.

Last September, the group worked with Greenpeace Canada to clean up an area of the Don Valley underneath the Overlea Boulevard bridge. About 100 people collected a few hundred garbage bags that day.

With files from Haweya Fadal