Garbage heap on Dry Creek’s shore an unsightly hazard in Modesto

Kevin Dole talks about the litter left by the homeless along Dry Creek in Beard Brook Park in Modesto on Thursday. Dole says he often collects the garbage thrown over the steep bank of the creek.
Kevin Dole talks about the litter left by the homeless along Dry Creek in Beard Brook Park in Modesto on Thursday. Dole says he often collects the garbage thrown over the steep bank of the creek. aalfaro@modbee.com

Charitable folks deliver meals virtually every day to the homeless and hungry people who dwell in Modesto’s Beard Brook Park.

Plastic foam plates with hot food and sack lunches are handed out with good intentions to anyone who wants them, free of charge.

Too often, after the nonprofit groups leave the park, however, those food containers litter the lawn and blow over the ridge to Dry Creek.

The creek’s shore has become a makeshift dumping ground for park users, stacked deep with dangerous garbage.

Besides the carelessly discarded cups, plates and bags, it’s cluttered with syringes and needles, knives and razors, shopping carts and bicycle parts, clothing and junk of all kinds.

“Nobody wants to walk all the way to the front of the park to put stuff in the garbage,” explained Kevin Dole, who frequents Beard Brook. “There’s stuff in there you don’t want to mess with.”

It’s an ongoing problem, mostly just beyond the city park’s edge along Dry Creek off Morton Boulevard.

“Last year, I picked up 23 bags of garbage myself,” said Dole, recalling his short-lived attempt to clean up. “Eight days later, the trash was back.”

A more formal pickup now has begun.

Volunteers from Church in the Park, which holds Sunday services at Beard Brook, will lead a cleanup effort on Saturday mornings for the next several weeks.

“Last Saturday, we hauled out 920 pounds of garbage,” said Dean Dodd, the congregation’s president. “But we just scratched the surface. There’s a couple tons of garbage left. It’s embedded in the overgrown grass, where it’s accumulated over years of neglect.”

Church in the Park serves 160 to 275 hot lunches in Beard Brook every Sunday, and Dodd said his congregation brings in five large cans to collect the waste from those weekly meals.

Dodd, who has been homeless himself in the past, blamed “the occasional bad apples” living in the park for making the mess.

“Last week’s pickup was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but now we know what we’re getting into and have a game plan,” Dodd said.

About 20 volunteers from the congregation are expected to pick up garbage there starting at 8 a.m. Saturday , and the church will provide gloves, face masks and trash bags to anyone willing to join in.

“We’re going to be there every Saturday until we tackle this monster,” Dodd promised.

Modesto resident Martin Corgiat, who eats meals delivered to the park just about every day, said he plans to help with cleanup efforts. Corgiat’s main concern is that trash problems may force charities to stop serving people in Beard Brook.

Litter at the former Tower Park in downtown Modesto was among the reasons United Samaritans Foundation moved its meal deliveries to Beard Brook several years ago, according to its executive director, Barbara Bawana.

“If we get too many complaints (from neighbors), they won’t want us to stop there anymore,” Bawana said. Her nonprofit agency distributes about 30 meals a day on plastic plates or in paper bags to people at Beard Brook.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Bawana said. “We carry a trash can with us, and we encourage people to put their garbage in it.”

But not all do.

“People take their lunch and go off to eat it in the park,” Bawana said. “If they don’t take the time to put it in the garbage cans, litter becomes a problem.”

Some city officials would prefer that charities feed needy people at their own facilities, rather than delivering meals to Beard Brook.

“If the Styrofoam is not taken to the park, it’s not going to end up in the creek,” said Todd Rocha, Modesto’s park operations supervisor.

Rocha said Beard Brook’s trash problems have increased, and “the illegal camping situation there has skyrocketed the last two years.”

Delivering free food to homeless people at Beard Brook “enables them to stay there, which displaces the families who would like to visit the park but don’t dare go there now,” Rocha said.

Decades ago, Beard Brook was considered a children’s park with a bucolic setting and a swimming hole similar to something in a Norman Rockwell painting, Rocha’s been told. He’s not sure which public agency now has jurisdiction over Dry Creek’s bank.

“We generally don’t send our people down there because it’s not safe,” Rocha said.

Dole knows that’s true: He says he’s stepped on used hypodermic needles in the grass, and that lots of illegal stuff gets tossed there.

“If you have a shopping cart here and cops see it, they’re on you,” Dole said. The same is true for stolen bicycles, drug paraphernalia and weapons. So, Dole said, the homeless dump what they don’t want to be caught with over the creek ridge. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Dole is convinced that garbage is polluting the creek, which flows into the Tuolumne River. “When it rains, all that stuff will go down the river to somewhere else,” he said. “Then it’s their problem.”