On Friday morning when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to help clean up a state park on Saturday morning, I of course said "yes!" It's so easy to take for granted green areas and watersheds, whether they are tucked away from most of civilization in a wilderness area or just down the street from cities and homes.

This particular volunteer morning focused on removing trash from William B. Umstead State Park, a 5600 acre park with several trails and a few lakes. Umstead is a favorite retreat for Triangle residents and even though it's in the middle of a bustling and growing area it offers plenty of opportunity for recreation. After 150 years of farming and lumber production left the soil depleted and eroded, the Civil Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration took on the area as a project during the Great Depression. When the land was then sold to the state for $1 it was stipulated that the land always be used as a state park, which is why it has survived such close proximity to an interstate and airport and various industrial parks.

Of course, all this close proximity means humans have a high impact on the park, and hence the park cleanup event.

A park ranger gives his spiel on the park history and watershed.

We arrived a few minutes late - just in time to miss the worst of the countless kids running around chaotically before the opening remarks by the event coordinator, but still in time to hear the park ranger's spiel on the history of the park and how the park's lakes and creeks are part of the Neuse River watershed. The ranger emphasized how litter from Umstead can wind up in the Atlantic Ocean: old news for most adults (hopefully) but still good information for the aforementioned gazillion kids in wellies and colorful jackets, assuming they paid any attention. (I don't blame them; they were excited to run around the park!)

Great turnout of volunteers!

In the ensuing madness at the volunteer table as kids and adults swarmed for gloves, bags, River Guardian patches, and trash tally sheets, Emily, McCrae, and I grabbed our supplies and made our escape. The volunteers fanned out, heading toward the lakes and various trails, but we wandered onto the first trail we found. In terms of interesting trash we found one rotting pair of briefs by a fallen tree - an obviously popular hangout spot based on the underwear and lots of dried up gum. (Underwear though? Aren't you a bit curious about how underwear got there?! Apparently I'm not having enough fun in my state parks!)

A great place to hang out, but a terrible place to lose underwear.

Otherwise the trail cleanup seemed to go well, so as responsible adults who didn't have to worry about kids we wandered off to clean up trash around high impact and non-kid-friendly places like park roads and parking lots and deep muddy creeks, hauling out cigarette butts and beer cans and bottles, an old dog collar, and plenty of unidentifiable plastic wrappers and bits.

McCrae and Emily

Emily looking chipper as she counts the trash tallies. A perk of being a photographer? I get to hide behind the camera; sorry Emily and McCrae for always trying to catch you off guard!

I encourage everyone to help volunteer to clean up green spaces, whether that's a huge organized event at a state park or a few moments of being a good samaritan at a picnic area or promoting Leave No Trace in the backcountry. As the park ranger pointed out, every little bit of trash removed makes a difference; that's one less shiny bit of candy wrapper to be swallowed by a sea turtle, one less beer bottle that shatters and cuts up fish and birds, one less rotting piece of underwear to ensnare an unsuspecting dolphin in its non-biodegradable spandex band. (Seriously though, HOW DO YOU LOSE UNDERWEAR LIKE THAT?!) And of course clean watersheds mean pretty pictures of pristine parks and beaches, and since most people just skim my blog posts for pretty pictures, I know that's something we can all get behind.

So much trash!

So here are a few resources to help you get started on a super easy volunteer morning (seriously, it took less than two hours, we didn't even break a sweat and we spent al our time in pretty wooded places - it's a win-win!):

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