Cleaning up the canyon one car at a time

By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring/Real Estate Editor
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It’s quite a leap, going from picking up cans to cutting up abandoned cars and having them air-lifted out of the American River Canyon, but that’s exactly what Auburn resident Rex Maynard has done. A retired linesman from Pacific Gas & Electric company, Maynard got involved in keeping his recreation area clean by simply picking up trash while out on his adventures in the canyon. “Then I got in with a couple of rangers, which had contact with the CHP (California Highway Patrol) and that kind of stuff,” he said. “It just went from cans to cars.” Maynard says it’s been roughly 30 years that he’s been involved in helping keep the canyon clean, and he’s quick to point out he’s had an army of volunteers and the help of many agencies, which allow him to get the job done. So far, Maynard has taken out five vehicles that were complete, and three others that were just frames. Other large automotive items removed included truck cabs and beds. How does he get these vehicles out? “It takes about two days to cut a car into (several) 400-pound pieces,” Maynard said. “Usually the (CHP) helicopter comes at the end of the second day (to airlift it out), or it comes down at another time.” Vehicle extraction, which requires sawzalls — or in some instances torches — to cut up the vehicle and then transport it out, is done in the winter and spring months when fire danger is at its lowest levels. Along with picking the best time of year to pull these vehicles out of the canyon, several safety precautions are taken to make sure things go smoothly, such as bringing in water just in case a spark hits some dry brush. Maynard and other volunteers also work in conjunction with the rangers in the Auburn State Recreation Area, as well the CHP and PG&E, which provides a boom truck that allows for hauling out debris in areas that are tough to access. “He’s been an inspiration to all of us. Just the level that he can tackle it at,” said Eric Peach, board member of the Protect American River Canyons organization. “He’s brought PG&E resources to our cleanups so he can tackle anything from picking up litter to removing metal and removing the cars.” Even though several vehicles have been brought out of the canyon, thanks in large part to Maynard’s volunteer efforts, there’s still plenty in the Auburn State Recreation Area that Maynard has his eye on. “I’ve got GPS documentation and located (other vehicles) and even reported it to the ranger station. There are 14 more cars in the state park,” he said. What drives the 64-year-old to do this demanding work in remote locations is his fondness for the canyon, a place where he spends many a day hiking and mountain biking in. “I use it, I love it, so I help take care of it,” Maynard said. “In fact, my side yard looks worse than the canyon. In fact, my wife tells me that once in a while.” Again, Maynard reminds you that he doesn’t do this work alone, but his close friends know if it weren’t for his drive, the vehicles would remain. “That type of thing, you put it on Rex,” said Ron Blair, Maynard’s neighbor, friend and helper in canyon cleanup. “I don’t think it would be happening if he wasn’t out there doing it.” Peach seconds Blair’s statement, saying that when Maynard volunteers the level of cleanup gets taken up a notch. “When Rex gets involved, the weight that we take out gets into the tons, it’s pretty significant — always,” Peach said. “He’s just a really athletic guy, strong, and knows how to utilize ropes very well. He can actually rappel down and attach ropes to things to pull out.” But vehicles aren’t the only things Maynard and his crews haul out, there are many pieces of junk that get tossed — some things that are hard to believe. Besides vehicles, Maynard has pulled out refrigerators, shopping carts, bowling balls, computers, TVs, couches (in trees), old mining equipment, culverts, cables, iron pieces, and one of the more unique pieces, a Kawasaki Jet Ski that was thrown off the Foresthill Bridge. “And you can imagine what a Jet Ski looks like when it hits a rock from 700 feet,” Maynard said. Along with finding unique items Maynard also found objects he wasn’t even looking for in the first place. “We were pulling a toilet out one time with the line truck and found a Volkswagen,” he said. “And that’s still there. We haven’t got that out yet.” Maynard is also involved in two major cleanup days a year in the canyon, including the upcoming American River Earth Day Cleanup on April 25, which brings out more volunteers. “He’s a super guy, what can I say? We’re so lucky,” Peach said. “Most people will never know what a difference he’s made. For a guy a like him it’s clean, unspoiled canyons and river. It’s by what’s not there, that you’ll know Rex has been there.” The Journal’s Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at, or post a comment online at ---------- American River Earth Day Cleanup When: 8 a.m. to noon, April 25 Where: American River Confluence On the Web: Click here for an updated list on other ways you can help out in the community. Ways to Lend a Hand