How To: Host a River Cleanup

Since we hosted the Clear Creek river cleanup in September (A Cleaner Clear), there have been a large amount of folks asking when the next cleanup will be and how they can get involved in the future with others. This makes my heart soar like a hawk. Just to hear that folks are passionate about volunteering for anything is a beautiful thing. Especially when it comes to our environment. So many of us grind away our days in the rat race chasing the almighty dollar, feeding our families, and trying to save up enough for a good bottle of whiskey every three days or so. It’s worth noting there are many folks out there who make the time to put on such events besides myself.

Serving up lunch and a ton of prizes.

Renowned fly fishing guide, author, and all-around nice guy Landon Mayer was gracious enough to talk to me about the successes he’s had hosting the Clean The Dream event which celebrated their 5th year in 2020. “I’m really proud of what it’s become,” he said about the event which this year alone welcomed 260 volunteers and countless incredible sponsors. This year’s success, mind you, was during COVID 19 and certain uncertainty, and he still crushed it. Check it out on his Instagram or sign up for his newsletter.

He also noted that he’s been to a lot of other states and “Coloradans are so cool about protecting what we have. We are all very proud of our rivers and lakes, and as a whole are dedicated to protecting them.” When asked if he had advice for anyone who wanted to organize a cleanup, his advice was to stick with it. “We started out with 21 volunteers that first year,” following up that you should avoid getting discouraged if at first you don’t get very many volunteers, or sponsors. Just keep promoting the cleanup as much as you can in any way you can. People genuinely want to volunteer. “In the case of rivers and lakes, these bodies of water give us so much, and giving back to something that gives us so much is part of our responsibility, and is my motivation.”

My girls hauling trash bags.

Who thought such a thing could be so rewarding? Well, there are a lot of folks who put forth the effort to organize their fellow Earthlings to get outside and do something tangible like river and highway cleanups. Slapping a sticker on your bumper it seems, just isn’t enough for some folks. If you feel like you are one of these folks, you are in good company. And to tell you the truth, if you have a phone and a little will power, you can organize your own!

One happy dude after the event. Banners were donated by Mile High Graphics across the street! That shirt makes me look fat.

Step 1: Find your passion. Is there an area you ride your bike, walk your dog, drive to work, hike, or fish that you visit on a regular basis that you wish was a little less trashy? Make this your focus. Pick a manageable area that a group of volunteers could tackle in a few hours. A Cleaner Clear focused on a mile of river from one bridge to another with 100 volunteers for 3 hours, and it was just about right. I’m not going to do any math here, but use some ratios or something here.

Step 2: Contact the jurisdiction. Find out if your project is owned by the City, County, National Forest, etc. Contact those folks and tell them your plan to organize a cleanup, when it is, and where it will happen. You will be amazed how much they will want to help you. We received prizes and trash bags from Adams County for A Cleaner Clear, and they came by all morning to pick up all the bags and haul them to the dump and to be recycled. It was too easy.

Step 3: Pick a date. I would suggest a Saturday morning or afternoon, or all day depending on your project.

Step 4: Send out an invite in whatever way you want (Evite, Google Forms, etc.) to all your friends and coworkers directly, then post it on social media once a week until everyone gets totally stoked. Be sure and send out the invite well in advance to avoid excuses. Start talking about it several months in advance.

Step 5: Procure swag! Sure people are happy to help clean up disgusting junk on the side of a highway or river, but throw some prizes in there and you will have folks really interested in your project. Why? Because everyone loves winning great prizes. I would suggest calling restaurants, local shops, and other small entities to ask for donations such as gift certificates, product, and anything they would be willing to donate. Explain that you will have a lot of folks at the event and that you are promoting local businesses and you will tag them all over your popular social media feed. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t bat a thousand when making calls and sending emails to businesses. Just move on to the next one and like fishing, you’ll get a bite here and there. If you are excited, they will feel it too and be willing to help you out. We gave out prizes for several different categories such as Strangest Item, Largest Item, Most Reusable Item, Most Plastic Bottles, and Most Inappropriate Item. After that, just give the rest of the prizes away using raffle tickets. Call it a “Drawing” not a raffle, otherwise you have to get a gambling license. Thanks lawyers.

Step 6: Provide refreshments. Landon Mayer, for his Clean the Dream river cleanup provides a full on barbeque lunch every year for 200+ people which is incredible, and donated. If you can secure a donation of food, the easier it will be. Prodigy Coffeehouse donated coffee to A Cleaner Clear this year and we used Thrivent Financial to pay for breakfast burritos and lunch/beverages. They have a sweet program where you can apply for $500 a year to pay for events or items for the event. Look them up.

Prodigy crushed it, and friends from Texas donated $100 worth of gift certificates to Prodigy as well. Hell yes.

Step 7: Give clear directions the day of the event. Climb up somewhere high where everyone can hear you once gathered. Tell everyone where they are cleaning up, times for coming back, where to leave trash bags, safety, waivers (if you have them, or if the jurisdiction requires them), etc.

Step 8: Have fun. Walk around and check on everyone. Act super surprised when someone shows you something strange like a bloody mattress or soiled underwear.

Bed Bug City.

Lastly, trust that you can do this on top of your day job. Focus on making a few calls a day to procure donations, and don’t get down if you don’t get a ton of support. Persistence is the key to any great success. And ask for help. Have someone serve lunch, someone else collect waivers, pick up the food, and so on. There will be moments of panic, but in the end, it will all be worth it.

Good luck out there and please shoot me any questions you have regarding anything at all. Love to support your project in any way! – Will

Published by William Bussard

Camp, fly fish, clean up, write. Three daughters. Staying out of trouble.

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