It Takes a Team To Clean Up a Stream
The Arlington-Fairfax Chapter is leveraging local needs and interests that intersect with the chapter’s conservation mission to increase manpower for cleanup and restoration projects.
The chapter adopted two streams – a 1.2-mile section of Cub Run and 2.4 miles of Bull Run – that drain into the Occoquan River and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. The chapter also hosts three to four cleanups at Virginia’s Mason Neck Park on Belmont Bay each year. All told, the chapter holds at least one cleanup event open to the public every month. That means feet on the ground (and in the water) are needed every month.
“What I basically do is create the opportunity to volunteer and broadcast it,” says chapter Save Our Streams committee chairman Colin Riley. He posts each event online on community newspaper calendars and other local groups’ Web sites. “My approach has been to conduct competitive intelligence – see what other groups are doing out there to avoid competing with their events and to ask them to help spread the word about our events.” Riley maintains a volunteer database so he can communicate volunteer opportunities to past cleanup participants. In addition, he has received help in spreading the word about upcoming events from the county’s stormwater management agency, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, all of which he regularly e-mails about cleanup events.
“We’ve had school groups, church groups, and businesses volunteer,” says Riley. For three scheduled cleanups last fall, volunteers included employees from a local corporation and students from a local middle school. How did Riley make those connections? An employee of Datran Media who is also an Arlington-Fairfax Chapter member was tasked with finding volunteer efforts for the company – a perfect match for Riley’s needs. A biology teacher from Rocky Run Middle School, which is located near one of the chapter’s adopted streams, contacted the chapter about getting her students involved with the project as well.
“I try to make it a positive experience for each volunteer, which also helps get people to come back,” Riley says. “A volunteer who has participated in a previous cleanup is more valuable to me because he or she already knows what needs to be done and how to approach it.” Last year one out of every four volunteers at chapter cleanups was a repeat volunteer.
“I give each group of volunteers a clearly defined objective and try to be cognizant of their physical limitations,” says Riley. “Some chapter members are very gung ho and have no problem wrestling a 150-pound tractor tire out of the water, but I wouldn’t send a young student into the water to do that. I provide them with water, gloves, and tools and make sure they don’t get tired out too quickly. Sometimes there’s a strategy. With kids, if you’re walking them to a point downstream and then back to the parking lot again, it is best to discourage them from picking up trash until the return trip so they are carrying the trash the shortest distance possible. Whenever possible, I use water craft to transport trash rather than having volunteers carry it for long distances.” Riley also defines the time commitment for each event.
“Ironically, it is sometimes easier to get people to turn out for a cleanup when the weather is bad,” says Riley. “One of our best turnouts at a stream cleanup was in the pouring rain. When we had a nice day last spring after a hard winter, many people took that opportunity to do something else.”
Another great tool for recruiting volunteers
is to promote successes. Riley has a Web site
dedicated to chapter cleanup events where he
posts pictures of the volunteers at work, the
results of past events such as weight of trash
collected and numbers of participants, and a
schedule of future events. You can take a cue
from Riley’s Web site at http://waterquality.awardspace.com/.