How to Join or Host a River Cleanup

By Mali Anderson in Thinking Sustainably

If you and your family enjoy canoeing, kayaking, or hiking by a river, you know that waterway ecosystems need to be protected. A river cleanup is a great way to volunteer to help ensure a healthy home for local aquatic life and plants. Become involved with a water cleanup effort in your community and teach your kids how to make the river a healthy, safe place for people and wildlife.

river and trees over the prow of a kayak

Plan a River Cleanup

If you are spearheading a volunteer effort in your community, choose a convenient day and time and give yourself at least a month to prepare and recruit friends and family members. A weekend in the spring (after snow melt and before summer canoeing crowds) is often a good time.

The length of your event will depend on how much you plan to achieve. You can have a few friends chip in for an hour or two, or you can organize a day-long event. Before getting started, look over the river cleanup guide compiled by American Rivers. This resource has everything you need to organize and host a successful cleanup, complete with customizable flyers and volunteer sheets.

If you want to be a part of a volunteer effort but don't want to organize one on your own, reach out to your local park system or government representative. They will likely have the contact for a river conservation group in your area.

Row, Row, Chase That Trash

A short river cleanup can happen on foot, but a longer one can be more effective by boat. Traveling by canoe or kayak can help you reach garbage tangled in fallen trees and avoid walking across private property. Make sure kids and adults are all paired with a buddy and know how to control their boat. Bring these basic safety supplies:

  • Life vests, emergency whistles, and rope. Practice good water safety, even on a slow and gentle river.
  • A waterproof first-aid kit. You should only allow participants who are up to date on their tetanus shots. River debris and trash can cause small cuts and scrapes that can be an infection risk.
  • Weather-appropriate gear. That means sunscreen for hot days and a rain hat for dreary ones.
  • Heavy duty trash bags and thick gloves. You may be picking up anything from soda cans to fishing hooks to truck tires, so make sure you can handle and carry your haul.
  • A camera or phone to take pictures. Documenting your trip is a great way to spread awareness!

You can also choose what trash you pick up. Focus on small, floating pieces like plastic or fishing lines that can hurt birds and other critters. Handle broken or sharp pieces carefully, and pair children with an adult who's wearing gloves. If you find large objects, such as scrap metal or tires, it's best to call a local canoe rental outfit or conservation group for help.

Teaching Kids Responsibility

A river cleanup is a great way to volunteer as a family because there is typically a job for everyone, regardless of age or abilities. There is a need for people to pick up the trash, for a crew to separate recyclables from garbage, and for someone to record what was collected throughout the event. All of these are ways to keep our rivers clean!

When kids participate, they can immediately see the importance of protecting our rivers and streams. When they see the health of the waterway and how that impacts the wildlife that calls the river home, the concept of protecting our planet and natural resources becomes personal and tangible.

heron standing on a river rock

Keep Rivers Healthy

You can even pair a cleanup with a science adventure. The U.S. Geological Survey is a great source for kits that help you test the pH and dissolved oxygen content of water, which helps determine if the river is a healthy home for plants and microorganisms. After a day at the river, you can discuss other ways to keep watersheds clean, such as using rain barrels and composting grass clippings and leaves.

The natural world belongs to all of us, and it's our responsibility to take care of it. Let's work together to keep our waterways clean. Then, we can enjoy them in canoes, kayaks, or with a picnic on the riverbank!

Have you done a volunteer cleanup with your family? Share your tips and photos on Twitter.

Image source: Mali Anderson | Mali Anderson | Mali Anderson

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It’s Good

You can make a difference in your community by participating in a river cleanup! River cleanups are a great way to teach your kids about the importance of clean waterways and sustainable living.