Nevada Stories from the Field

The Mystery Riverkeeper at McCarran Ranch Preserve

A mystery riverkeeper at our McCarran Ranch Preserve gave us a hand—and inspiration! A story told by TNC land steward, Lori Leonard.

Mystery Riverkeeper left organized piles
Mystery Riverkeeper A mystery riverkeeper at our McCarran Ranch Preserve left organized piles of collected trash. © Lori Leonard/TNC

by Lori Leonard

Has anybody been in need of a little proof humanity is not going to heck?

I certainly have been. Fortunately, I nearly tripped over it last week, while scouting for thistles at the McCarran Ranch Preserve.

The last time I'd walked this densely-vegetated area was after record-breaking flood water had receded, where an overwhelming number of plastic bottles, flip flops, and many other treasures had been newly deposited amongst the flood debris.

While the trees and soil responded beautifully to the high-water levels, this garbage deposition was a common sight along several sections of the lower Truckee River.

Mess left by flooding
Flood Debris Trash left along the banks of the Truckee River by floodwaters. © Lori Leonard/TNC

I was thinking about my Spring Plastic Bottle Blues when I realized, “this area looks...really good.” And then I saw it...

...A beautifully sorted and organized collection of garbage, in the middle of the woods, away from the trails, and away from any roads. The Anonymous Riverkeeper displayed an artistic row of clear glass liquor bottles, followed by an orderly row of brown glass bottles.

Bottles The mystery volunteer arranged bottles by color. © Lori Leonard/TNC

Then there were balls. Volleyballs, tennis balls, baseballs, red balls, plastic balls…you get the idea.

Balls The riverkeeper sorted the garbage by type, including various types of balls. © Lori Leonard/TNC

If you've lost a flip flop in the river, it may have been found.

Flip flops
Flip flops Anyone missing a shoe? © Lori Leonard/TNC

While there was an impressive variety of goods, the towering pile of plastic bottles was the big winner.

Wanting to capture this masterpiece with our fancy work camera, I left everything as I’d found it.

Towering pile of plastic bottles
Plastic bottles A towering pile of plastic bottles collected at McCarran Ranch Preserve. © Lori Leonard/TNC

When I returned the next week with fancy camera in hand, the ENTIRE collection (and by entire, I mean a HEAPING truck load of materials) had been moved next to our access road for easy pick up, with a few messages left by the Anonymous Riverkeeper. Signs read: "Lose your toys at the McCarran Ranch," "Find your balls by the Mustang Ranch," and "Lose your shoes in the Truckee River."

This random act of goodwill brings tears to my eyes almost every time I think about it, but it also has expanded to other acts of goodwill.

Notes from the riverkeeper
Notes The anonymous volunteer even left some good-humored notes. © Lori Leonard

Three fabulous volunteers from Patagonia helped me load up all the collectables.

Volunteers load up trash
More volunteers pitch in Helpers from one of our corporate partners helped load the trash into bins. © Lori Leonard/TNC

Then, as I ran up to the Waste Management truck driver to explain we didn’t expect him to take the garbage outside the bin, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you!”

So, I just had to share, people ARE good. Pass it on!

Happy ending
Happy Ending Thanks to the efforts of many—inspired by a mystery do-gooder—the trash left from flooding at McCarran Ranch Preserve was cleaned up. © Lori Leonard/TNC