Contributed by Tina Smith
Every year, Midnight Greenery takes part in different aspects of community involvement, from organizing an annual community cleanup and food drives to involvement in community-focused PSAs and political campaigns.
This year’s cleanup will probably be one of my all-time favorites; it was productive, as well as inspiring. It made picking up other people's garbage kind of fun. Ok, fun and trash together is not entirely accurate, but the day was fun nonetheless.
When coordinating our focus this year, I remembered the spring cleanup campaign organized by the Borough. So we decided to focus there instead of at the Wasilla parks, as we have done in the past. I contacted the Natural Resources Department and asked where we could best focus our efforts as a group of ten or more.
I was a bit nervous when we were given one of the busiest areas in the Borough during the camping kick-off weekend of the year - Old Knik Bridge public access area on Memorial Day weekend! Uh, what? We thought we would get a nice sedate trail or park, like in the past! Next thought being, “Let’s do this! We have faced scarier things and done it smiling, why not! (Rush hour traffic on the corner of Parks and Palmer Wasilla during campaign season was scarier and we did that smiling.)”
Then the gross reality hit me. We were going to be cleaning up other people's campsites. Yuck! Some people are just really gross! Honestly, there is just no gentle way to say it, just really gross! The things that some people leave behind when camping make me ill and angry at the same time. Diapers and glass (being my least favorite) were available in abundance. The most interesting were car parts, like alternators and full headlight units. There was even a full set of mattress springs found. This was a local camp area, not the refuse center that one may believe when seeing the collection gathered.
By itself, this seems so very depressing and makes one think, “Is this the best we can do? Allowing even our areas to escape and enjoy nature, be overrun by garbage?”
Thankfully the inspiring part of the day had already started to happen about thirty minutes after we arrived to the public access/camping area. It was something to witness firsthand, and it restored my faith in the power of inspiration.
I believe it all started with a conversation I overheard between three little girls. They were out exploring the campground and having fun, as one would expect with kids on a fun camping weekend, when they happened by our staging area where a few of the MG cleanup crew had started gathering garbage. One being a teenager who caught the attention of these little girls. This was when I overheard one say to her two companions, “Look at the girl! They’re picking up garbage, we should do that!” Five minutes later they were back with an adult, asking to help! They were even willing to pay for the bags before learning they were free.
Before long campers from throughout the campground were getting involved and cleaning up the area around them, in the trails and neighboring empty sites. We ran out of bags at one point and had to send for more. Kudos to those three little girls who made cleanup part of their fun and inspiring others to follow.
This really was perfect timing and placement to be the most effective as a cleanup crew. Like I mentioned earlier, I did worry that organizing it during the busy weekend would be a waste; yet watching the involvement from the campers on Sunday was amazing. I would like to think that when those that were helping clean today leave tomorrow, their campsites are better than when they arrived. Maybe the next time they use a public-use area, they will be more aware of how they leave their sites.
Here's a thought: Can you imagine how much nicer and cleaner our public-use camping areas would be if during all the big camping holidays (like the 4th of July), different companies organized cleanups focused on high traffic camp areas?
We would not only keep it clean, but remind those camping what they can do to help, inspiring others to pay attention to their environment while doing a great give back as a company or organization.
This is such a beautiful place to live and I’m thankful every day for my view from any direction in the Valley, let's all do our part to keep it naturally beautiful.