FiftyOne: Cleanup’s Never Done

Continuing the ”Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long quest.

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A great cleanup crew.  Photo curtesy Steve Holmes.
A great cleanup crew. Photo curtesy Steve Holmes.


San Jose is the southernmost major U. S. city with known salmon spawning runs. In past years, their progress had been blocked primarily by the culverts, wide concrete channels, and other features installed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Much of the spawning grounds have been choked with trash from citizen dumping, human waste, and other pollutants, primarily by homeless camps (painted in FortyEight: ‘The Jungle’ Fate).

During this quest, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that in recent years many citizen volunteers and organizations are working to restore the creeks and rivers of Santa Clara Valley. Due to their efforts, the trash which for decades accumulated and clogged the creeks has slowly been cleared out to make room for salmon runs and other aquatic animals. These volunteers have also lobbied and worked with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to modify structures and policies to allow salmon to migrate. Naturally this brings in more wildlife, like wild beaver in downtown San Jose (painted in ThirtyNine: Beaver Sign!)


This painting is dedicated to the volunteers clearing the creeks of Silicon Valley and their tireless efforts.


Organizations such as The Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group (SSRG), Friends of Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Friends of Guadalupe River, Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, and Friends of Coyote Creek Watershed have worked to restore the waterways of the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”. Many have regular cleanup days where citizens volunteer their time and sweat to keep the waterways clean.

Foremost of these citizens is Roger Castillo, dubbed “The Watchdog of the River”, who I wrote about in Twentyfour: Roger, Let’s Soar.

I especially want to thank Steve Holmes, founder of several of the above groups, who has helped me in this quest by giving some valuable ‘creek advice’, spreading the word, and his efforts in preserving our waterways.

Give it up and cheers to all the volunteers!

Painting 51 was done during one of Friends of Guadalupe River cleanup operations. Steve Holmes invited me out for the morning where I was ‘allowed’ to just sit and paint without picking up trash.

35 volunteers showed for the cleanup, one of several scheduled that day in the valley. The Guadalupe was completely dry which made it easier to clean and get trash from areas that normally might be under water or mud. One Boy Scout leader, whose troup had adopted this stretch of the river, brought special tools just to get an old TV and 6 cylinder car engine block out of the dry riverbed which normally would be impossible if the river was running. The area was not quite as trashy as other places I have seen along the waterways, but there was plenty to clean up, and there were 115 large trash bags collected!


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This is the first time I have painted beyond the ubiquitous chain link fence and “no trespassing” signs which guards much of the waterways of Silicon Valley from the abuse of humanity. The river stretch beyond the fence by Guadalupe is just wonderful, and as I painted, imagined a time in the future when many of these areas might be opened up to be enjoyed by the public without being ruined. These volunteers, I think are working towards that goal..



Cleanup's Never Done, 8x10, oil on board
Cleanup’s Never Done, 8×10, oil on board


About the painting…
Overall, I wanted to portray one thought about the volunteers cleaning up the area, but there are a number of points of interest in the piece. In the back is Capital Expressway as it crosses the Guadalupe River in south San Jose (Capitol Auto Mall) close to the intersection of Almaden Expressway. On the left are a few volunteers picking up trash in the riverbed, and on the right are the large accumulated trash bags. In the forefront, I painted a homeless pad (which was actually under the bridge), plus the usual trash you see in these areas. It indicates the job is not yet done. The riverbed is dry reflecting the drought California is experiencing this year.

Despite many efforts by many entities to improve Silicon Valley’s streams, their health still remains in in the balance, but greatly improving. As in the title, it seems their cleanup is never done.


If you want to volunteer, go to the above mentioned websites. Detailed information about some cleanup events are here.

Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.

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