To Hal Carson, the Red Deer River is calming and spiritual — a place to relax and drink in the beautiful natural environs.
So then why did he once haul a 26-inch television down the river with him?
He admits hot pink is not his colour, but yet he has floated down the river with a pair of so coloured brand-new Crocs in tow.
It’s not that he likes the things — in fact, if he is finding them in the river he really does not like them — but over the 20 years he and his Necky Gannet kayak have been travelling the river through Red Deer, he has been collecting them and much else.
Carson started riding in canoes in 1956 as a youngster, and from his early days paddling in New Brunswick with the provincial team in the 1967 centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant, he was taught the lesson “take out more than you bring in, always.”
And so while spotting garbage along the river during his rides may take away from the serenity of it all, he has made it his mission to clean the local river of garbage for years.
“It’s an intrusion, and it doesn’t belong here. I’ve had a dislike for it from the very start,” said the affable Carson before getting onto the water on Saturday.
At least twice a week during the months the river isn’t frozen Carson puts in, often at Fort Normandeau, riding as far as the River Bend Recreation Area — a three hour trip. Along the way, he spots and picks garbage, tying big finds onto the front of his vessel with bungee cords, filling Green Deer bags with everything else.
“Here there’s so much to pick from that quite often the thing looks like a Gypsy wagon,” he laughed.
Carson regularly collects bicycles and shopping carts from the river, and last year picked out 90 vinyl inflatable boats that had been abandoned on its shores.
Other finds have included the TV, the Crocs, a “floating monster” water bed bladder, and sleeping bags.
He has permission to use the dumpster at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre to dispose of his collected trash, a necessity because he had been getting heck from the city for having too much garbage set out for collection at his home with the river trash added in.
The amount of garbage in the river has increased substantially alongside the city’s population since he came to town in 1969, he said.
Individual responsibility, he believes, is the key to reducing the eyesore.
As long as littering still plagues the city, though, Carson will be out in his boat beautifying the city’s most beautiful natural element.
And he is not alone, even having developed something of a garbage-picking competition with another canoeing couple.
“(One time) they pulled in ahead of me and got my target. So I pulled in beside them and said, ‘Hey, that was mine!’” he laughed.
Hal and wife Linda were recognized as ‘Watershed Ambassadors’ by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance in 2012 for their efforts. While Hal paddles the river, Linda helps out by sorting and transporting the trash and recyclables found on the journeys.
Off the river and on the shoreline, last month 58 volunteers came together to collect 432 kg of garbage during the annual river cleanup. Car parts, flooring, and shopping carts were among some of the treasures found.
Suzanne Jubb, the city’s community and program facilitator, said it is “pretty amazing” what Carson does. But he is not alone among citizens looking to lay waste to litter.
“We’ve got a lot of troopers like that throughout the city,” said Jubb.
To further encourage people to properly place their garbage, the city is putting in a larger dumpster at the Three Mile Bend recreation area. The dumpster is three cubic metres and will be put in place this week.