On his daily walks along Boulder Creek, John Canova does more than admire the flora and fauna.
Canova, an 80-year-old retiree, also picks up the trash.
Since May, this is what he has retrieved between Broadway and a location west of Foothills Parkway: 31 tennis balls; four hypodermic needles; trash of "all sorts," unquantified mounds of discarded clothing and bedding — and then there's the garbage that's too unwieldy for him to collect himself.
Canova has referred large items he has happened upon to city crews. In a Dec. 19 report to the Boulder City Council, he cited 22 separate referrals he has made to the city, for items including a large wooden bench, a baby crib, a charcoal grill and a bicycle — all found dumped in the creek.
"At my age, you don't have too many hot buttons left," said Canova, who moved here in April with his wife from Virginia to be closer to his three children and six grandchildren.
"But I've got a warm button, and the warm button is the environment. The way I look at it, there are very few animals that foul their nest like the human animal."
When he addressed the council earlier this month, he was hoping to find a member for whom it is also at least a warm button.
"He just approached during the public hearing and sort of held out his hands and said, 'Is there a champion here for Boulder Creek?' Everyone sort of met him with silence," said Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle. She broke that silence by letting Canova know she would be his ally.
"To me, Boulder Creek is as iconic as the Flatirons," she said. "It's in the center of the city and runs from the far west to the far east. I thought it was really cool that he was someone who cared enough to show up and ask for help in keeping it clean."
Creek and path 'are suffering'
Canova lives at the Carillon at Boulder Creek, just south of the creek in the 2500 block of Taft Drive. That leaves him well positioned for daily walks as far east as Foothills Parkway and west to Broadway, as he prepares to take on the Bolder Boulder at the end of May. He knows the causes of the creek's problems are multiple, and that the solutions are likely not to be simple.
"It's a combination of indifference and inadvertance," he said. He added, "It's not only a creek problem. It's a path problem. They both are suffering."
Both Canova and Carlisle have been in contact with Boulder Director of Parks and Recreation Yvette Bowden and expect to be talking with her in coming days about what is being done, and what more can be pursued, to keep the Boulder Creek area more pristine.
The city has debated the issue in the past year of whether port-a-potties or more permanent bathrooms should be installed along the Boulder Creek Path as one strategy to combat the prevalence of human waste there.
After the installation of temporary bathroom facilities was narrowly rejected at a February council meeting, four portable toilets were nevertheless installed along the creek April 28 under a pilot program, in combination with overtime police patrols and more frequent sweeps of homeless encampments.
The port-a-pottie pilot program ended in November.
A city staff memo to council on long-term solutions proposes the purchase and installation of pre-fabricated bathroom units as part of Phase II of Civic Area planning.
Carlisle noted that the annual Boulder Creek festival has its historical roots in an organized creek cleanup initiative, and that she is not sure the event still holds that motivation as a central objective.
She also noted that the spontaneous gatherings in recent years of hundreds of tubers and other revelers massed along the creek's banks on the Fourth of July typically leave truckloads of trash for others to remove.
Carlisle said her son, a water biologist in California, has suggested that regular testing for water quality that might enlist the participation of local high school or college students could be one component of ongoing creek maintenance.
City spokesman Ben Irwin said Friday that water quality samples are routinely collected from long-term stream and lake sites throughout the Boulder Reservoir watershed and the Boulder Creek watershed.
Water quality is also monitored during the drinking water treatment process and throughout the city's water distribution system to business and residential taps, he said.
Still, "It might be interesting where this goes," Carlisle said. " ... Since we made the determination early on not to channelize it, but to leave it in this park-like effect, I think it's incumbent upon us that we actually care for it."
'Business as usual'
Boulder Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Denise White confirmed Friday that Bowden will meet with Canova in coming days, but added that close attention to the health of the creek is nothing new for her department.
"It's kind of business as usual for us as far as parks and rec," White said. "We are always working on keeping our parks clean and safe to be in."
The creek's health, she said, is "a topic that's always on our radar. It's something that we're always working on — and we're always open to hearing if our residents have ideas that they're bringing to the table."
Canova said he'd be glad to see the cause furthered by professionals and officials with true expertise in the area, although he is glad that he came forward to provide added spark on the issue.
"Someone has got to light the fuse — and then run like hell the other way," he said with a laugh.