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Planning a River Cleanup

Planning a River Cleanup: A Start-to-Finish Guide to Cleaning Up Your Local Waterway

Individual people are responsible for creating the trash that clogs our waterways, and it’s often up to individual people to clean that trash up. Hosting a river cleanup project in your area is a great way to not only improve the health of your local waterway, but to form new friendships with like-minded people.

The first step in planning a river cleanup project is choosing a location. While this may seem straightforward, there are many factors to evaluate before making a final call.

What the Experts Say:

Know the state of your stream:

  • How much trash is there? Scout a few streams before deciding on a location to ensure you have trash for your volunteers to pick up.
  • Contact a local watershed association, stream watch group, or other local environmental group. They may be able to tell you where to find streams in need of a cleanup.

Know the accessibility:

  • How deep is the stream?
  • How thick is the vegetation along the banks?
  • How many access points are there?
  • How far away will volunteers be from the trash collection area? Consider that volunteers will have to carry bags of trash back to this point, and waterlogged trash can be heavy.

Pick a good season:

  • Late spring is good: as water levels begin to drop, trash is often left above the water level.
  • Fall/early winter is good: good weather, low water levels.
  • Depending on your location, summer is usually bad: hot and muggy (and buggy), trash hidden by overgrowth and poison ivy can be a concern.

Putting It All Together:

Choose a cleanup location with the following characteristics:

  • A sizable amount of trash within reach of volunteers walking along the bank.
  • Within reasonable walking distance of somewhere volunteers can park.
  • Within reasonable walking distance of the pre-and post-cleanup meeting spot.
  • Has low, non-poisonous vegetation that won’t conceal trash.
  • Accessible at multiple points so that all volunteers can participate.
  • Is not near deep water or dangerous rapids.

If your cleanup location doesn’t have nearby parking, ask a local business or place of worship if volunteers can park in their lots during the cleanup. Tell volunteers to meet at the parking area to carpool to the cleanup site.

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