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It's Way More Than Just Picking Up Trash: My Journey With Creek Cleanups

My name is Evan, and I have been working with Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful for a year and a couple of months now. In this blog post, I am going to share how I got involved with creek cleanups, why I enjoy them, and what greater significance they have.


I had done creek cleanups for California Coastal Cleanup Day and National River Cleanup Day before I discovered KCCB. I remember clearly that my first cleanup was at Hellyer County Park. I enjoyed the event, and was happy we were able to remove what seemed like a lot of items at the time. While this got me interested, it was an event the next year that really got me hooked. It was for Coastal Cleanup Day again, but this time it was at the Singleton Road Crossing along Coyote Creek, just south of Capitol Expressway. There, I got to experience the true fun of creek cleanups: removing shopping carts, microwaves, stoves, and all sorts of other interesting finds with an enthusiastic group. 


Really getting into the creek!


The thing that was more important than just removing the trash though was the fact that I was able to witness the way we were able to transform the area and experience the satisfaction that we were able to make an impact. I remember at the end of that cleanup, I watched two of the other volunteers using a grappling hook to pull a stroller and a couple other items out of the creek. I remember thinking how fun and exciting it looked, but I realized that I wasn’t old enough to help. Little did I know that a couple of years later, I would be the one leading pulling things out with the grappling hook. 


Using the grappling hook, including with San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan.


Fast forward, after doing a couple other cleanups, I did my first one with Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful in August of 2022. It was at Singleton again, and I remember how enthusiastic everyone was, and how much fun I had. I have to say there is something special about KCCB’s cleanups. I can’t fully put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with the sense of community I get, and the fact that everyone seems to share the same values and has a similar gung ho attitude. After that cleanup, I just kept coming back for more, and have never regretted it. But why exactly?


The answer is for many reasons, some of which I have hinted at already. First off, I am a big believer in the importance of community service. I like how the cleanups bring together all sorts of people working towards the same goal. I find it interesting to hear how different people hear about Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, and why they decide to come. 


Teamwork is also very important when removing larger items, and it is great when I can find someone to work with who is as enthusiastic as I am. I find the work we do very rewarding because I can visually see the impact we are making. I also enjoy the challenge that cleanups provide. I like trying to remove the biggest, heaviest, and least accessible items, and it is very satisfying for me when I finally get them. But trust me when I say that they can be extremely hard to remove, especially because we are solely using manual labor. 


Teamwork!


Speaking of items, all of the different, unique, and random things we find is another reason I keep wanting to work. Every cleanup I find something I haven’t before, and it keeps things interesting. In case you haven’t been to a cleanup or are wondering what are some of the most interesting things I have come across, here is a brief summary: About 100 fliers for $5 off a circus, two ATM machines, a waterlogged punching bag, a waterlogged couch, multiple kitchen sinks, a headless doll, an eight foot tall stuffed teddy bear, forged money, countless numbers of shopping carts, mattresses, and tires, and way too many big appliances (you get the idea, if you can think of it, I’ve found it). I really enjoy spending time in nature, and think it is important for others to as well, so being able to help restore the environment back to its natural beauty for others feels great. 


We even found this large teddy bear.


Lastly, I am someone who doesn’t like to leave things unfinished. Over the time I’ve been doing creek cleanups, I have become rather involved with the organization, the city, and spreading the word. Therefore, I have found that I want to stick with it and work towards a solution to the problems we face until we figure out and implement a plan.


At this point you might be thinking, “Great, you are cleaning things up and you enjoy it, but picking up trash is just picking up trash, right? Why should I care, much less sacrifice my Sunday morning to come and do one of these cleanups.” In addition to the major impact it will make on the environment and all the other fun aspects I have shared, an important part of creek cleanups is the impact they have on someone’s perspective. I have realized that most people are oblivious to what has happened to our waterways and all the problems that have led to the situation we are in. I like to share with as many people as I can about what is going on and about the work that I am part of. I like to show people photos, share about the crazy things we find, and impress them with the weight of what we remove each cleanup. But, at the end of the day, I firmly believe that there is nothing more impactful than being on the ground, smelling the smells, feeling the waste between your hands, and most importantly seeing the thousands upon thousands of pounds of trash spilling into the creek. 


While I can’t do all the other issues that have led to this problem justice in this single blog post, I certainly think there is something to be said about witnessing a few of them at cleanups: 

  • The conditions homeless people are living in

  • The evidence of drug and alcohol abuse/addiction

  • The prevalence of all sorts of illegal activity

Though this can be overwhelming and shocking, I think that more than that, it will make people want to act. This could be by continuing to return to cleanups to remove trash, or by any of the other thousands of ways possible to contribute to a solution to the many problems that have led us to where we are. 


I also believe that it is a good lesson in getting your hands dirty. Too often, people just look at a picture and say “Oh, that looks bad,” and then just move on with their day, or decide to arbitrarily give a little money to some organization. While monetary contributions are important, sometimes the best way to deal with something is to stop counting on other people and to start doing something on the ground yourself. 


All in all, a cleanup can be a wake up call: Something is wrong here, something must be done, and you can do something. That is the conclusion I come to at the end of every cleanup, and an idea that I hope I can instill in others: Something is very wrong here, something must be done now, and we can do something. And I couldn’t be prouder to say that we are doing something.

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