Skills & Techniques

Plan Your Own Cleanup Event

Mark Eller - September 20, 2019

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is proud to partner with REI to host a series of large-scale cleanups at natural areas around the nation this November. We also realize not everyone who would like to participate in these events will find an opportunity close to home.

What’s an aspiring do-gooder to do? Host your own cleanup!

Even a small gathering with a few friends or family members can make a big impact on a natural area. The supplies needed are minimal, and the effort doesn’t have to last all day. With some advanced planning, a homegrown cleanup could be an enjoyable and effective outlet for your altruistic impulses.

Here’s a straightforward guide to planning your own cleanup.

1.) Go Big — or Don’t

Feeling ambitious? It may be possible to host a grassroots event with a couple of dozen volunteers, or even more. Just keep in mind that the larger your group size the more important it will be to make sure that you’ve coordinated closely with the land manager that oversees the area. (If the area you are targeting is on private land just substitute “land owner” for “land manager.”)

2.) Get Permission

Your ambitions are noble, but you still need permission. Many natural areas have limitations on how many people can assemble for an organized event, so make sure to run your plan past the people in charge. It’s usually best to give them at least two weeks of lead time to grant permission — and possibly issue a fee-based permit — for your cleanup. In general, a small cleanup with less than 10 participants will be easier to get approved than something bigger.

3.) Save the Date

Hoping for a good turnout? Try sending a personal “save the date” email message at least a week before the cleanup day. A quick text message or follow-up email the night before is also a good idea. Be sure to include the gathering time, end time and an exact location — not just “Sunnyvale Park” but something like “Meet at Sunnyvale Park, at the north parking lot, in the shade structure. We will gather at noon and be done by 3.”

4.) Stockpile Supplies

Cleanups usually don’t require much: some garbage bags, work gloves (or go BYOG) and maybe some grabber implements if you can get them — your land manager friend might have a collection. You could even equip your team with reusable Deuter Dirtbags. Find out what facilities are onsite for dealing with the trash you gather, and if recycling is an option. If not, consider bringing your own receptacles and taking the recyclables to an appropriate drop-off spot. Also, find out if bags of non-recyclable items can be placed by garbage cans or need to be taken somewhere else in the park.

5.) Document Your Success

Take before and after photos of your hard work, get some group shots and make sure to tag @REI and @LeaveNoTraceCenter so we can share the volunteer efforts across the country.

6.) Care and Feeding of Volunteers

There are lots of ways to show your crew how much you appreciate your volunteers: donuts, burritos, maybe an omelet bar — all manner of drinks and treats will surely be appreciated. Before you decide to order a keg, or add any form of alcoholic beverages into the mix, find out if the natural area you’re in allows them. It might also be worthwhile to bring a couple of fun awards and stage a quick ceremony at the conclusion of your event. If you plan ahead, you might even find a few local businesses that are willing to donate a gift card or two.

7.) Share a Little Leave No Trace

How did all that litter get into your favorite natural area? It wasn’t because people were practicing Leave No Trace. Rally your troops to be ambassadors, and to stay involved in protecting nature. You can also enhance the green vibe by asking volunteers to bring reusable cups and water bottles to your gathering.

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