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Taking Time Out to Help the Outdoors

Volunteer Events Assist in Cleaning the Region’s Waterways

Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are home to hundreds of rivers and waterways that are some of the most beautiful in the nation. But with major cities in the surrounding area, these natural landmarks have deteriorated throughout the years from pollution and other human abuses.

Mark Breyer, director of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative with The Nature Conservancy, said that along with trash accumulating in the region’s waterways, harmful chemicals, nutrients and airborne materials wash into rivers, creeks and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

This spring, hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals will be participating in cleanup efforts. Many of the events will be held in conjunction with Earth Day on April 22, including educational forums on environmental awareness and

other Earth Day celebrations.

“I think generally with the cleanup efforts, there always needs to be that educational component, that people need to be good stewards of the environment,” Breyer said. “When they’re out recreating they need to take home with them what they brought with them.”

In the spirit of “working” vacations, here is a rundown of some of the annual events taking place from late March to June in Washington, Virginia and Maryland.

Capital River Relief,
March 27-April 22
The monthlong cleanup effort of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers has become a tradition for many Capitol Hill staffers since 2004. Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands and Waters, was traveling to D.C. when he looked outside of his airplane window to see the polluted waters surrounding the city.

Since that time, Pregracke and partner organizations bring volunteers, many of whom are Hill staffers, to pre-selected sites on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. There are cleanups scheduled from March 27 to April 22. The effort attracts about 800 volunteers. In the past, Pregracke said volunteers have been able to collect enough trash to fill a 110-foot-long barge. Volunteers can sign up at

“In the past Hill staffers have been great … they just come by the vanloads,” Pregracke said. “It doesn’t sound like it, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Among past participants of Capital River Relief are staffers from the offices of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

19th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup,
March 31 and April 1
With sites in more than 14 counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is one of the biggest environmental events of the year. In 2006, more than 6,000 volunteers participated and collected about 207 tons of trash from the Potomac River.

Volunteers can pick a site closest to them and work with a local organization in their area. More than 250 partner organizations take volunteers to the sites to collect trash and later sort them out into bags for recyclables and regular trash.

“I think people are interested in joining in because trash is just a huge issue in this area; it’s something that you see everyday, there’s no real escape in it,” said Anna Wadhams, coordinator of the event for the Alice Ferguson Foundation. More information on the event can be found on

Blackwater Earth Week Litter Pickup,
April 14
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of wildlife species and encompasses more than 27,000 acres of wetlands, open fields, forests and freshwater reservoirs.

Each year, about 30 to 40 volunteers gather to pick up litter on the main roads surrounding the refuge. Tom Miller, coordinator for the event, said that as many as 30 large bags are filled with trash each year.

“It’s really one of the simplest forms of environmental stewardship to come out and clean up and pickup garbage,” Miller said.

Volunteers can contact Miller at 410-228-2677.

GreenDC Week,
April 15-22
GreenDC Week provides a plethora of opportunities for volunteers to participate in environmental awareness. Along with cleanup efforts around the metropolitan Washington area, educational forums and celebrations will take place throughout the week. Volunteers will distribute flyers, man recycling stations and document events that will take place throughout the week and especially during an Earth Day celebration on April 20.

Each day of the week will feature a different theme, and volunteers will participate in information lectures and other events. The Web site lists all the activities that will take place throughout the week.

Anacostia River Earth Day Cleanup and Celebration,
April 21
The Anacostia Watershed Society will host the annual Anacostia River Earth Day Cleanup as part of GreenDC Week. Each year, the event attracts up to 2,000 volunteers and covers sites in Maryland and Washington. The cleanup lasts from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and a rally will take place starting at 12:30 p.m. at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park.

Volunteers can listen to live music and participate in trash art sculpture contests and other activities. Elected officials also are scheduled to speak with participants. The event, which started 18 years ago, has collected more than 736 tons of trash. Information on the cleanup can be found at the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Web site,

Clean the Bay Day,
June 2
Clean the Bay Day, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, includes more than 150 sites in Maryland and Virginia. The event focuses on waterways, creeks and tributaries that impact the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States.

Sharon Smith, coordinator of Clean the Bay Day, said debris and materials found in the rivers and other waterways can vary, from construction materials to cigarette butts and plastic materials.

“It’s important for people to have a hands-on experience, to see how human activity impacts the bay,” Smith said. “The other thing we’d like to do is for people to develop a sense of stewardship.”

Since 1989 Clean the Bay Day volunteers have cleaned up 4,000 miles of the bay’s shoreline and have collected about 2,800 tons of debris. This year, Smith said organizers want to expand the cleanup efforts in the Hampton Roads area. Volunteer sign-up is available at

River Stewardship Day,
June 2

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers Association in Virginia will host River Stewardship Day to coincide with Clean the Bay Day. This annual event, which attracts as many as 150 volunteers, is all about fostering environmental stewardship among participants. Volunteers meet up in the morning and are divided into different groups — some walk on the riverbanks, while others go out into the water on boats and canoes and collect floating trash.

More than just a cleanup effort, participants also will help in landscaping around informational kiosks and building wood duck boxes. After the cleanup, volunteers are invited to an afternoon picnic where information on environmental issues is available.

River Stewardship Day Chairwoman Kitty Cox said the event brings out people from all ages and from different locations.

“The event exposes people to the river and other resources in hopes that they would be stewards for the river throughout the year and not just that one day,” Cox said.

More information about the River Stewardship Day is available at