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February 26, 2014

Helping the Environment by Thinking Ahead

If you’ve ever been on a creek cleanup crew, you’ve probably had reason to ask yourself, “For goodness’ sake, why did someone put this here?” After all, the idea that old mattresses don’t belong in local waterways seems like the kind of thing you might learn in a Dr. Seuss book.

Photo by Seraph6283 (deviantART).

The fact of the matter is that there are a number of reasons that people look at a creek, look at the garbage in the back of their truck, and think, “Yep. This is a good idea.” Helping the environment is frequently not just a matter of cleaning up the messes that get left behind in this way, but also a matter of keeping people from making those poor decisions in the future.

Photo by blackwhitelex (deviantART).

There are a number of ways that crowdfunding can help you encourage people to keep your creek clean. Frequently, the most effective way to send this message is by changing what people see when they look at your creek. Many people feel that they are free to dump trash in locations that already look neglected. You can help stop this behavior by funding a few projects that will let visitors know that your community wants your watersheds to stay clean.

Photo by FramedByNature (deviantART).

Trash cans are generally the cheapest and easiest project to fund and install on your creeks’ banks. In fact, if part of your cleanup task involves removing 50 gallon metal drums that are in reasonably good condition, you really only need to clean them up, put a trash bag in, chain them to a T-post, and label them. Although this basic option is frequently enough to reduce littering and encourage good-hearted visitors to clean up after others, it’s easy to get more advanced. Creekside parks in my home county, for example, provide PVC tubes full of dog waste bags and informational signs along with their trash cans. These projects are easy to crowdfund and send a clear message about where your community wants trash to go. Even better, they make future cleanup projects much easier to carry out.

Another way to encourage positive behavior along your creek is the installation of walkways. Creeks often provide a convenient shortcut through a subdivision, but what’s convenient for schoolchildren isn’t always convenient for your creek’s environment. Erosion, litter, and disturbances to local wildlife are just a few of the consequences that can come from excessive “off-road” foot traffic. Moreover, many people see a creekside area without paths or trails and assume that there will be no consequences for littering in an area that looks abandoned. Crowdfunding walkways–from designated footpaths of dirt and gravel to concrete sidewalks with safety railings–can help people get on the path to treating your creek with more respect.

Photo by wiebkefesch (deviantART).

Adventurous kids are a mixed blessing for creeks. On one hand, they will grow up to be adults who appreciate and protect their community’s natural areas. On the other hand, they don’t always exercise the best judgment when it comes to exploring–especially on nature’s own half pipe! Using a creekbed as a terrain park is a time-honored suburban tradition that unfortunately has the potential to do some significant damage to a creek. Crowdfunding a designated terrain park is not only a way to protect your creek’s banks from feet and tire treads, but also a way to get your community’s younger members genuinely excited about protecting their environment. Once word spreads that the neighborhood might get a proper terrain park, it might be hard to stop the kids from donating!

The way a location looks invariably sends a message. We know not to walk on black pavement with yellow lines painted on it; we know not to start a spontaneous musical number in a library; we know not to use a developed park as a dumping ground. While it is unfortunately impossible to completely deter littering by making it clear that an area is a community resource, it is possible to encourage positive behavior by adding features like trash cans, walkways, and designated play areas to our riverside areas.

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Posted by Mark Contorno.

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