2019 National Clean Up Day : September 21, 2019

It’s hard to believe how quickly a week can pass. More unbelievable to me is the willingness of the people I’ve gotten to know who will show up to help with a messy job. Last week at this time, I was working with a crew of people organized through Women Who Hike Minnesota to clean up one of my favorite parks – Minnehaha Falls Regional Park.

This is a park of my childhood. It was a park I visited with my son as he grew up. I’ve hiked here with Scouts and on my own more times than I can count. It’s a beloved park for thousands who enjoy the wonder of Minnehaha Creek as it makes its way over the falls to join the Mississippi River a short distance away. It’s a city park that sees a LOT of traffic on all its trails and even into the woods where trails really shouldn’t be. Much like many other parks, its users vary from those that don’t care all about how they leave nature to those who care deeply. So when the opportunity came to spend a couple hours scouring the trails and woods to remove as much trash as we could in two hours, I jumped at the chance.

I knew that there would be more trash than we could begin to remove. I also knew that every little bit helps and that sometimes seeing a wave of people cleaning up can inspire others to do the same. As our group of 24 gathered, we were bolstered by generous donations to make our work a bit easier. Granite Gear, based in Two Harbors, MN, and sponsor of The Grounds Keepers had provided 2 and 5 liter versions of their Toughsack for everyone helping. The City of Minneapolis provided work gloves for those that had forgotten them. And there were prizes donated for drawings after too.

We got to work, splitting up into three groups and spread ourselves across the park. The crew I was with, about six of us, took to the steps leading down to the base of the falls. At the bottom we found a pile of clothes that would have completely filled our bags. We decided we’d come back for those for our final weigh in. As we headed toward the Mississippi River, we spread out following footpaths created to spots where people have created fire pits and hidden areas to party. Bottles, cans and plastics were everywhere, often thrown to the side of the trail just under the ground covering plants.

We found objects that were curious and heavy, nasty and smelly. We quickly ran out of room in our bags. Fortunately we found fishermen at the river who were happy to share shopping bags they had in their gear for us to load up.

On our way back to weigh and dump our haul, we even found a cat litter bucket which became a great addition to our gear and allowed us a great place to put the clothes we’d planned to grab on our way back. In the end, we left the park 135.5 lbs lighter of garbage. 135.5 lbs!

Could we have done more? Of course! Each person who came recommitted to making it a practice to take a bag of some kind on every hike to keep up the momentum of the day’s effort. My personal ask if you’ve read this for you to grab a bag – any old bag (used plastic bags, paper bags, whatever bag) – and bring it with you when you are out there in the world. Bring a pair of gloves or a grabber. Take a minute or two and lean over to pick up that cup or straw or cigarette butt and put it in your bag. Because in the end #weareallgroundskeepers of this beautiful, blue marble we call home.

If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to help check out my page Let’s Talk Trash for a Minute to find resources or look for these hashtags on your social media channels: #nationalcleanupday #seatoshiningsea #11thessential #weareallgroundskeepers #packitout #leavenotrace #thegroundskeepers #leaveitbetterthanyoufoundit #wwhsteward

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Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, ruthsbluemarble.com | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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