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Organizing a cleanup


Organizing a cleanup is easy!  All you need to do is grab some garbage bags, perhaps some cleanup tools, and your paddling friends, and pick up trash.  That’s all there is to it, so go forth and clean up our waters…Until you get to the spot you were going to drop the trash, and ‘Officer Friendly’ informs you that you can’t leave the tires there! So maybe it isn’t quite so easy.  Let’s start a dialog, on either on the IPC Web Site or on the Water TrailKeepers Facebook Page to discuss the logistics around organizing cleanups.


  • Setting the Cleanup Objective:  What do you want to accomplish?  Eliminate an illegal trash dump?  Pull Trash from the River?  Connect the community to a forgotten waterway?  What the goal will determine a lot of what will come next
  • Choosing Where and When.  As the organizer this is really your preference.  When are you available to do it.  Where do you want to do it?  However, you may find that some flexibility is in order.  Avoiding highly publicized dates like ‘earth day’, ‘it’s our river day’, ‘National Trails Day’, etc. may mean you get more volunteers because you won’t be competing with lots of other events.  Weather and on-water conditions may also impact the choice of when and where.
  • Fund Raising:  It always helps to have funds to supply cleanup tools/supplies, trash pickup, food for volunteers, etc.  In recent years, Water TrailKeepers has been fortunate to receive funding from REI Stewardship Grants, The ACA Club Fostered Stewardship Program,  the Illinois EPA, and other individual donors.  Funding is available, but it takes time and effort to obtain it.
  • Involving Local Authorities: If you can get the local authorities such as Forest Preserves, Conservation districts, park districts, etc. onboard, things go much more smoothly.  They may be able to help with disposal of trash, and provide other services.  They may even have volunteer programs to help you with recruiting volunteers and reaching out to the public.  Their responsiveness, or lack thereof may influence the decision on where and when.


  • Arranging for Trash Pickup:  If the local authorities are unable or unwilling to dispose of your trash, you will need to find alternatives.

Sometimes the local trash hauler will donate services to a community service project.  Sometimes they will offer discount rates.

Bridgestone has a program ‘tires 4ward’ to help dispose of trash-pickup-tires.


  • Recruiting Volunteers

Sources of volunteers:   Paddling Clubs, the community, church groups, youth groups, scouting….etc.

Involving the general public on-land walking the shores

Involving the general public on-water in boats

Thank, Feed, and Recognize volunteers

  • Partners and Sponsors:  Involving multiple organizations in the planning and execution of a cleanup increases the complexity, but can greatly increase effectiveness.
  • The media:.  The media can be a great ally publicizing the event. Media Outreach takes a lot of time, effort, and patience.
  • Event day logistics
  • Post cleanup follow up:  Get ready to do it again next year?

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