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Clean-Ups are Cool!

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

Does unsightly garbage along the road, in parking lots, or—the worst!—stuck in a sagebrush a hundred miles from town make you cringe? Us too. It hurts to see litter foul up beautiful spaces, be they wilderness, state parks, or urban areas.

Newly elected Ontario City Councilor Eddie Melendrez (left) and I (right) pose at the end of the plogging day.

As Friends of the Owyhee, stewardship is core to our mission. That is why we adopted Succor Creek State Natural Area, and why we adopted a four-mile stretch of highway 95. It is also why we are dedicating the First Saturday of each month to Stewardship.

Amazing Kiwanians, FOTO supporters, and Ontario community members clean-up. Clint found a flatscreen TV!

But why clean up in town, so far out of the Owyhee watershed (our mission geography)? Besides the need and expressing civic pride, there is an inspiration. Kiwanis first asked us to help out with a clean-up last December (full disclosure, I am a Kiwanian!), but during the set-up, it was suggested maybe Kiwanis do this monthly and go to different adjacent communities that the club serves. We inspired Kiwanis to also clean up the landscape—in this case, the much-needed urban jungle.

Now that Kiwanis has this covered, we will join forces with Boise Valley Fly Fishers (BVFF) and several other groups to clean up the Lower Owyhee Canyon on March 6, 2021. Watch for more social media on that event, but it will be similar to past events: 1) go to the site, 2) check in and pick up gear, 3) go clean on your own. The Idaho Gambler 500 group was out there, too!

We are also putting together a special operations team for the same day, but a different project. On Saturday, March 6th, we'll head out for our first trip of the year to the ID-OR Border on Highway 95 for an Adopt-a-Highway clean-up! Last October, we collected a total of 46 bags of garbage. To register for this event (only 20 available), use this Eventbrite RSVP.

But why do we want to keep cleaning up after people? For starters, who else will? We are the Friends of the Owyhee. Our local, state, and federal resources are already spread thin. Unfortunately, cleaning up garbage seems so nominal that agencies often see this funding reduced or there is little emphasis placed on the activity. As self-described stewards, we are honored to do it.

Do we get upset at the people leaving the litter? I think it is natural to be a little upset while cleaning up a mess you did not make or that those folks are disrespecting nature, public lands, and the Earth in general. It is far healthier for us to let those feelings of angst go and just do the right thing. That said, the natural solution is education, promoting awareness, and refuse infrastructure. All three solutions Friends of the Owyhee work on: at all of our outings, we discuss leave-no-trace principles; the plogging events brought a new level of awareness to the Ontario community, inspiring more clean-ups; and we advocate land management for more trash bin options than fewer in areas of recreation.

Last summer while at Succor Creek State Natural Area picking up trash, a kind outdoor enthusiast from southern Utah was visiting and commented to me, "These areas are much cleaner that the places I usually visit". Another person pointed out "the Owyhee doesn't have a trash problem, not like southern California!" And we intend to keep it that way. It doesn't just happen—it takes work from folks like you, that care a whole lot about the Owyhee. It isn't glamorous, but it is necessary to not have a trash problem.

So please, mark your calendar for a First Saturday Stewardship for at least one month in 2021 and post your pictures on social media! Remember #TrashTag? Let's inspire.


Sammy Castonguay grew up on a ranch in South Dakota. Though at the time it seems like his step-father, Gary Palmer, was just being picky, he instilled in Sammy a desire to see outdoor infrastructure tidy and free of litter. "Looks like someone takes care of the place," he would say. In this picture, Sammy was picking up litter around the new Friends of the Owyhee office near the Ontario Recreation District and Lions Park in the Aquatic Center Building. While we want to invite you all down to see, a time will come when we can safely do that.

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