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Chris Crawford

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The Boise River drew Chris Crawford to the Treasure Valley, and now it's at the center of his life. As the founder of Boise River Volunteers and Great Outdoors Opportunities for the Disabled, Crawford, 30, has dedicated himself to keeping the river the jewel of the valley.

During the last four years, Crawford had recruited an army of volunteers to scour the river between Barber Park and Ann Morrison Park, cleaning up trash and coming to the rescue of floaters who run into trouble. His work earned him the honor of being named a conservation hero in the May 2006 edition of Field and Stream, but it's not the accolades that keep him floating.

How did Boise River Volunteers get started?

We were just down here visiting, just me and a bunch of friends in a motorhome, and a month later, I was living here—I moved from Lewiston—and I've been in love with it ever since. I used to fish on the Boise and float with my friend. We'd go down and party on the river, just like any other river floater. We'd see beer cans floating down, and we'd chase them down in the hopes that they were full, but even when they were empty, we always picked up because it was such a beautiful place. We'd always pick up the river, but we didn't really go hard for it, if we were standing next to it or if it was floating by us, we'd grab it. I'd flyfish on the river and ... it got to the point where I was just picking up more trash, and I wasn't even using my fly rod anymore because I'd see trash everywhere. I just couldn't get my mind off of it, and it was just everywhere to me, so I'd just go down and pick up trash and eventually started leaving my fly rod at home ... then I got one of these little catarafts [and] did some custom framework on that to haul the trash.

How much trash were you coming back with each day?

Three or four bags completely full, where I was almost tipping over backwards on my boat. That's why I decided I wanted to get more people to do this, because it should be done every day, all the time, especially when you get this many floaters on the river.

Were people responsive to what you were trying to do?

Oh yeah, I think people were responsive. I got all kinds of people involved ... I got a lot of cooperation, and I have gotten a lot of cooperation from local businesses and stuff like that. We're still trying to get free parking from Barber Park, because most of the time it comes out of my pocket. It's not cheap to keep the river clean.

How has the program grown?

I'd go down to the park, Ann Morrison Park, and pass out my business cards ... and talk to people about it and that's how I got volunteers the first year ... I got probably 50 volunteers that summer ... The next summer, I probably got a little over 100 volunteers and then now, this summer, I've already got more than 250 volunteers signed up to do it. Now I don't even have to go down to the park and talk to people about it any more. I don't have time, I'm too busy answering e-mails of people trying to get ahold of me.

Where does the money come from?

I put out probably more than $10,000 of my own money into it. This is the first year of getting monetary donations, but it's in the form of sponsorships ... All the money that comes from the sponsorships goes right into the equipment because I need more boats.

How many boats do you have?

Five.

How much trash are you picking up these days?

Quite a bit. We'll have two bags per boat at least on each clean-up day.

Why has this grown so quickly?

Because so many people love the river. If you look at all the tourist info and all the Boise, Idaho, promotional stuff, 90 percent of it has Boise River included in it ... Obviously, the fact is the Boise River is our most-valuable resource.

Why are people trashing it then?

There are people out there that just throw their stuff down, but I'm finding more blatant littering now ... There's a drinking ban on the river ... and I've seen people—literally seen people—sink their can, or ditch it in the bushes. Their beer can or their beer bottle, or their alcohol bottle— mostly hard alcohol on the river. So now people are drinking hard alcohol on the river and getting in their cars and driving, or they're getting slammed before they even go down there, so they're driving to the park all slammed and it's just ridiculous.

So you're not just picking up trash, but picking up people?

All the time.

How often are you on the river?

Three to four days a week, all summer long, every weekend.

Do you bulk up on the holidays and busys times?

Exactly. There's more people running. Like yesterday [July 4], I probably patched and pumped 15 boats. The problem is we're short on equipment, that's why we're trying to get sponsors. We don't have enough patch kits, we don't have enough pumps—we have one pump for the whole deal because I can't afford it, so I'm waiting for sponsorships to pay for that stuff. Things have been neglected because I couldn't afford to take care of it, like the boat maintenance.

Are sponsors coming to you?

I'm actively going after them because not a lot of people have heard of us. This year, I've had to really push the fact that we're not a city organization and we don't get paid to do it. For some reason, people don't understand the whole "volunteer" word. We're out there doing such a public service, we must be getting paid for it because nobody'd would go out and do that without getting paid for it. The fact of the matter is, there is people that do, do it.

What would you like to see the group turn into?

I don't know. I'm like the river, I just go with the flow.

For more information about Boise River Volunteers, visit www.riverhelpers.com.