Cleaning up at the Gambler 500

Racers work to help eliminate community trash

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Participants in this year’s Gambler 500 off-road event might have been a little disappointed if they were aiming to win one of the stewardship awards.
That’s because it seems there was less trash to be found.
Granted, they removed plenty from the state’s parks this year. It’s just that it was a little harder to find this time, said Matt Cowart, who provides “way points” for off-roaders.
“We had a lot less of that this year than we normally do, which is encouraging. However, we still picked up 350 cubic yards of garbage,” he said.

Strawberry Plaza holds a small crowd for Gamblers who stop by the park to pick up way points.

Gamblers drove through Lebanon on June 25 to stop at Conversion Brewing, where Cowart’s way points were posted. Way points are off-road locations scouted by Cowart’s team to draw people into Oregon’s beautiful places, but they also include points where trash is known to be.
Over the past several years, Gamblers would not be surprised to find litter left behind by people using the state’s natural resources, but it was a different scene this year for some. A lot of what was hauled out of the forests included refrigerators, couches, and lots of mattresses and tires.
“It was very obvious that people were dumping their things,” Cowart said. “It was more of just specific people dumping loads of things that should’ve went to the dump.”
Troy Schmalz, of Portland, who gathered with his friends at Conversion Brewing before heading out for the way points, wouldn’t disagree.
“There’s not as many people out there creating camping trash, but there’s still an element that’s making other trash,” he said. “More along the lines of what you see on I-5 with a bunch of tents and stuff like that.”
He also noted that the Gambler group is getting better at tagging locations a week in advance where trash needs to be collected.

Team McGruff dresses in police, prisoner and other costumes to match their mascot car, a retired police cruiser.

Schmalz’s group, Team McGruff, started four years ago with an old police car. Members dress in police and prisoner uniforms. Last year, they picked up what they dubbed “the mystery bag.” Based on the stuff oozing from it and what appeared to be fur, they figured it contained deer remains.
This year they didn’t find much trash; cigarette butts, candy wrappers, tires. But Schmalz pointed out that it’s possible the roads are getting more attention throughout the year. Both Cowart and Schmalz said Gamblers and public forest employees will issue an alert when refuse is in need of rescue.
Tate Morgan, who started the Gambler 500 in 2014, set up Sons of Smokey, a nonprofit organization to help fund cleanup efforts throughout the state. Urban cleanup events have also popped up around the state from Gamblers who, apparently, got the litter cleanup bug.
Cowart took part in an urban cleanup in Portland last month, helping to haul off a flatbed trailer loaded with trash. He’s encouraged to see less trash in the forests now.
“I think that there is a combination of both people were being more responsible this year as they’re enjoying our state, and there’s a lot more active Gamblers through the year that are going out and when they notice something. They don’t wait ’til OG. They just go out and take care of it,” he said.