Getting Dirty to Keep Our Parks Clean

Viburnum in Glover-Archbold Park – Photo by CGIOS

The older I get, the more I feel I need excuses to put on wellies and jump in mud puddles. Why is that? And what’s a better excuse than signing up for a park clean up that also just happens to be on a rainy spring day?

Last April, I joined site leader Jerry’s group for the Rock Creek Conservancy’s Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup. Our task was to remove the trash from Glover-Archbold Park, a sub-unit of Rock Creek Park. For a map of all of Rock Creek Park and its finger parks, check here.

I made sure I wore comfortable clothes that I didn’t mind getting muddy in. And I honestly did fight myself a little getting out of the door. After all, rainy days are great for curling up at home with a book and a cat. At the end of the day, getting out was not a decision I regretted.

I arrived and paired up with another woman whose partner was at home with a broken ankle. Since the rest of the group seemed to arrive together from a college, it was lucky for us that we were each alone. Jerry handed us a large bag for garbage and one for recycling, gloves, instructions, and pointed us in the opposite direction of the big group. We were on our way.

We entered Glover-Archbold Park near New Mexico Avenue and Garfield Street. It was raining a little harder than I realized, but that added to the visual magic. Thanks to the rain’s broad brush over the earth, we were surrounded by new spring growth made bright green in contrast to the darkened tree bark.

What’s nice about volunteering in early spring is the beauty of the early growth mixed with the lack of poison ivy and bugs (if bugs aren’t your thing). My mother passed on her love of wildflowers to me, and DC is full of them. The very first things I noticed with delight were the prehistoric-looking Jack-in-the-pulpits everywhere! And there was a tree with beautiful cascading white blooms on one side trail that was a challenge to identify. After outsourcing the plant’s identification on Facebook, a friend who works in parks says he is 100% sure it’s viburnum. I returned the very next weekend, sun in tow, to snap pictures of both species.

Jack-in-the-pulpits – Photo by CGIOS

I was grateful for my clean up partner who had a much better sense of direction than I do. I was mostly teaching myself to use visual cues in the physical geography as breadcrumbs, but not very successfully.

We chatted some and learned about each other, and walked quietly and enjoyed the light rain while we collected trash on the network of trails. The park was mostly empty of people, probably from the weather. Their loss.

Most of the trash in this area of the park was located closer to the street entrances. That is where the hard work was concentrated. However, one of the more disturbing things for me (and here is your embedded PSA, people) was the number of doggie bags people leave in the park. The point of the bags is to pick up your pup’s poo and remove it with you. So leaving it in the bag in the woods seems even more egregious than just leaving the waste there to decompose. We picked up quite a ridiculous number of bags. And also found a few plastic Easter eggs with toys in them, clothing, and the always ubiquitous plastic water bottles.

I know from my volunteering experiences over the years that people show up for a variety of reasons. I’m an introvert and love people but also love just plain hard solitary work. So I go for the joy of being outside and helping the environment, and the therapy that is ripping vines from trees and hiking into challenging crevices for a piece of trash. For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of taking a warm shower after getting really dirty and working hard. A lot of people volunteer for team building and for socializing and, yes, because this is DC, even networking. If you met your partner for life while volunteering, I’d love to hear about that! Tell us why you volunteer in the comments.

The Rock Creek Conservancy works to protect Rock Creek and its parks throughout Washington, DC and Maryland (including Rock Creek Park). Like in any system, the condition of one part can affect another part. The health of Rock Creek, for example, affects the health of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay (the bay closest to my heart). Join the efforts to protect these parks as a natural oasis for all to enjoy. For forthcoming information about the next Extreme Clean Up and other volunteer opportunities, keep an eye on this page.

The Rock Creek Conservancy volunteer experiences are well-planned, with site leaders who bring supplies and communicate about the event with participants. All you need to do is dress for the weather and the woods (and if you must, bring a business card or two). But most importantly, get out there and have fun!

Let’s Indulge in Some Green Shaming, Shall We?

Photo by CGIOS

No, this is not a post about leprechauns. Instead, I’m going to call myself (and you) out on a few things while also sounding like a tree-hugging hippie. Here I go.

It’s spring. What a great time to go a little greener. Come on, all of the plants are doing it. We all know we pollute. Whether you want to delve into the science of global warming or not, whether you need stats or not, if you think about your everyday actions, there is no doubt about it: you pollute our beautiful planet. This gigantic, scary, marvelous gift to us.

Every winter, Joe and I take a trip somewhere warm and Spanish-speaking. This trip serves several purposes: practicing Spanish, making new friends, seeing new places, reflecting on what is and isn’t working for us in our normal day-to-day, and remembering to appreciate our time and what we do have.

One of those things is our planet.

On our last two trips to beautiful places, the lack of infrastructure raised the visibility of our waste, our collective human waste. It occurred to me that in the U.S. we are better able to hide our trash, but that doesn’t mean that trash just disappears. With the veil of infrastructure, it is easy to ignore the small things we could be doing to lessen the impact of our waste. But now that the waste is piling up and melding with our environment, it will be harder to ignore. Did you hear the latest about the plastiglomerates in Hawaii?

Here are some tasks I invite you to consider, oh, after I get done with green-shaming myself.

It’s a mighty green shame that I often take home food from dinners and lunches wrapped in plastic containers and bags and often accompanied by plastic-wrapped plastic utensils. I’ve also used body and face wash with microbeads. I’m terrible with the coffee cups, buy coffee twice a day in disposable cups. At work, I opt for plastic utensils for my in-house lunch meals and paper cups for water. I shave with disposable razors. Since I eat mostly whole foods (a step in the right direction), I often have lots of food scrap wastes that I throw directly in the trashcan (oh but four steps back). Sometimes I use more paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins than I actually need, and I leave the water running when I brush my teeth. I’m not perfect, but I have already started to do better.

Here are some things you and I can do and consider:

1. Choose bathing products that do not contain microbeads. If you aren’t sure which microbeads are safe for the environment, opt to use a washcloth for exfoliation instead.

2. Say no to that extra bag when you take food out. Even better? Bring your own take-out container. You might get a strange look, but no one will say no to you using it.

3. Keep a set of non disposable dishware and utensils and cups at work, so you don’t result to plastic.

4. Consider using cloth napkins and cloth towels, instead of paper. It isn’t too hard to add these to your laundry.

5. Carry bags in the trunk of your car for groceries and keep a foldable bag with you in your purse for impulsive or last-minute shopping.


7. Consider cooking whole foods to lessen the packaging you are picking up at the grocery store (and because it’s healthier).

8. Carry a water bottle and a coffee mug with you if you drink water and coffee often.

9. Be conscientious when using paper products and running water. Ask, “Do I need all this?” If not, then don’t use it.

10. Washington, DC has lots of compost options that aren’t too expensive. If you don’t have a yard to do personal composting in, consider a composting company. Ex: Compost Cab and Fat Worm Compost

Please feel free to add to the list below the post!

If you wanna go green crazy, I also recommend reading Living Green by Greg Horn. I know we all have reasons (family, too busy with work, not convenient, etc) for not taking extra steps, but the truth is these aren’t extra steps, just different steps. And with practice, they become habit.