A few weeks ago I signed up to help clean-up a section of Rock Creek Park with the Environmental Law Institute’s “Stream Team.” So, once again I woke up at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Almost missed the meeting place, but I eventually found my group. We all put on the gloves that the organizer provided, and then started our way down a steep hill to the stream. I was just praying I wouldn’t slip in the mud on the way down in front of all my outdoorsy coworkers.
I was amazed by the kind of stuff we found when we were cleaning up the park. Along the main trail there were just a few scraps of paper and trash, which made me wonder why were even there. But, as soon as we climbed up the hill into the woods I was shocked to find way more beer bottles and other trash than I could fit in my trash bag. Unfortunately, while I was finding trash, the mosquitoes found me.
For two hours the ten of us made constant trips up and down the hill, filling about 20 trash bags with bottles and trash that we found blanketing our section of woods. It was sad to think about how many people must have spent time hanging out on the hill, and then just added their bottles to the collection on the hill. It really was out of hand, and even after our group’s hours of work I’m sure we hardly made a dent in the amount of trash stashed in the park’s woods.
What to Wear: Definitely wear long pants, old jeans are the best. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy, especially if it just rained. I love flip-flops, but they would have been a terrible, terrible idea when hiking through plants and mud and bugs and who knows what else.
What to Bring: Bugspray!! This I did not do, and I got absolutely eaten alive. Don’t make the same mistake!! Also bring work gloves if they aren’t provided, because there is no way I would use my bare hands to touch the disgusting stuff we picked up. Also, lots of trash bags. Remember to separate the recycling and trash as you go so you don’t need to sort through it at the end. You won’t want to touch the stuff you find more than once, trust me. I brought a little drawstring bag with a waterbottle and camera, which was good because you will want to carry your stuff with you.
Other Tips: Have fun. Bring a few people with you so you can show off all the ridiculous things you find, such as beer bottles that have roots growing over them because they have been there so long. And ceramic bowls with little rabbits painted inside. Plus, if you bring friends you can commiserate about how much you all hate mosquitoes. And most importantly, if other people are there you probably will stay longer because you won’t want to look like a wimp in front of them, which is beneficial to the environment!
Though the group I went with was organized by the Environmental Law Institute (a really cool nonprofit by the way) where I am an intern, other students could easily do the same sort of thing. Anywhere from one person to an entire group could really make a difference, and all you need to commit is a few hours on some random day. So try it!