Cleaning Up Where We Play


An REI volunteer surveys the trash collected from the boat launch on the Juniata River Water Trail | Peter Roquemore

An REI volunteer surveys the trash collected from the boat launch on the Juniata River Water Trail | Peter Roquemore

Rivers are focal points in communities and river cleanups draw volunteers from all walks of life. One of my favorite parts of a river cleanup is meeting people and learning their motivations for volunteering their time. I’ve learned that it is a safe bet that at each cleanup you’ll find the folks there because the river is where they play. Whether they camp along its banks, enjoy running or hiking trails nearby, relaxing on the shore after casting a line, or taking to the current to paddle recreationists understand that in order to enjoy nature they need to put in the work to keep it clean.

Volunteers at a river cleanup may be visiting these wild places for the very first time. It seems that at every cleanup I attend I overhear someone remark that they had no idea such a beautiful place existed so close to their home! Anyone who has volunteered at a river cleanup can tell you it’s hard to walk away from the experience without feeling a sense of ownership over the river. While river cleanups are events that bring people back year after year through recreation we can give people an opportunity to come back every week.

Volunteers haul tires out of the woods near the boat launch | Peter Roquemore

Volunteers haul tires out of the woods near the boat launch | Peter Roquemore

I spent my Earth Day weekend in Bedford, Pennsylvania at the Bedford County Stream Sweep and Earth Day Celebration where volunteers cleaned up 1.5 tons of trash and 81 tires! Organized by REI and Keep Bedford County Beautiful the cleanup involved 50 volunteers cleaning up trash, 30 volunteers planting and doing beautification projects, and 10 organizers at different sites across the towns of Bedford and Everett. We kicked off the event in Shawnee State Park where a group of students from a local elementary school participated in plantings along the riparian buffer of Shawnee Lake. Later I joined a group of REI employees who were busy cleaning up tires, debris, and plenty of trash from the shoreline at a boat access point on the Raystown Branch Juniata River Water Trail. This access point is the starting line for the Bloody Run Canoe Classic, a 9-mile canoe race organized by the Raystown Canoe Club, so it was important to clean it up and have it ready for the day of the big event!

Paddlers with the Raystown Canoe Club use the newly cleaned up boat access point | Christine Marie

Paddlers with the Raystown Canoe Club use the newly cleaned up boat access point | Christine Marie

A highlight of the cleanup was the celebration afterwards. REI and Keep Bedford County Beautiful organized fly tying workshops with Fort Bedford Trout Unlimited, and George Barner, Regional Outdoor Recreation Coordinator for PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources set up a sustainable campsite fully equipped with a tent made from recycled bottles, and brought mountain bikes for volunteers and their families to use on the trails around the park.

It was a joy to see so many people who had spent their morning cleaning up get to enjoy the park and learn about new recreational opportunities. REI has been an excellent partner in planning river cleanups and I’m already looking forward to next Earth Day. Who knows, maybe I’ll throw my hat into the ring and paddle the Bloody Run!

Register a river cleanup with National River Cleanup today and show people in your community how much fun outdoor recreation can be!

One Response to “Cleaning Up Where We Play”

Nikki Keister

Great article!!! Thanks to all of the volunteers that donated their time to beautifying and cleaning for the day!