FELTON -- Three deputies and four Santa Cruz County Jail inmates hauled out three truckloads of trash from illegal campsites near Zayante Creek and the San Lorenzo River on Thursday.
Responding to some residents' complaints and a pile of garbage and human waste at the Graham Hill Road Bridge over the San Lorenzo River, deputies posted notices to vacate the campsites in January.
Since then, much of the debris was removed or swept down the river with last month's rain, sheriff's Sgt. John Habermehl said.
Thursday, they hauled out dirty clothing, alcohol bottles, bicycle parts and a broken kayak, among other items.
"It's not so much that somebody decided to pitch a tent," Habermehl said. "We try to address the criminal behavior -- the illegal dumping, the drug and alcohol issues, and the waste in our rivers."
He added that the cleanups are a matter of maintenance rather than a long-term solution: "If we don't do something about what's out there, it's just going to get worse."
The action follows similar Sheriff's Office sweeps near Highway 9 in September and by Santa Cruz police during the fall and summer of 2012.
No one was cited and no syringes or other drug paraphernalia were found on Thursday, deputies said. The inmates who participated volunteered from the Rountree Detention Center, a medium-security facility.
At a second cleanup site under the Conference Drive Bridge at Zayante Creek, deputies were
Light rain fell on the crew as it loaded food wrappers and dirty clothing into a Santa Cruz County flatbed pickup and a truck loaned by the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center.
Don Cox, a homeless 53-year-old Air Force veteran, watched the crew work in the rain. He said he camped in the Felton area for years and noticed new people who came from Santa Cruz because of recent cleanups in that city.
"A bunch of them who've come down here are drug addicts and thieves," Cox said.
Having been a mechanic and tow truck driver, he said he is trying to attend job-training classes at Cabrillo College and find a place to live with his veteran benefits.
"It's not like I've chosen to be out here and be a bum," he said. "I'm too old to be on the streets."
"They're really kind of picking on us," he said of Thursday's cleanup.
Another woman, Amanda Livingston, 22, saw the deputies and inmates work under the Graham Hill Bridge.
She said one of the men went to Santa Cruz to collect a check Thursday morning, so she scrambled to round up his gear and a bag of prescription drugs before it was removed.
"I've been telling him that they're going to clear the camp," she said. "He didn't believe me."
Originally from Michigan, Livingston said the bridge offered her some shelter during the rain storms earlier in the winter. She and others cooked, drank and tried to stay dry, she said.
Above the bridge, some employees at nearby businesses said they appreciated the cleanup.
"I think it's definitely necessary but it's pretty lame that it has to be done in the first place," said 21-year-old Adam Pomianowski, who works at Budget Truck Rental at 6440 Graham Hill Road. "This is a river running through our little town. I'm glad someone's paying attention."
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