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Cleaning Up Your Community

There’s no shortage of green community projects aimed at protecting nature, whether it’s wildlife or wild places. You can clear and maintain hiking trails in parks, count birds for wildlife inventories, plant trees, and so much more. Where there are rivers and canals, areas of common land, pathways, and parks, there are clean-up projects. Waterways in particular seem to be magnets for plastic bags and other trash, but vacant lots and public lands can become dumping grounds, too. Cleaning these areas up has many benefits: You’re protecting animals, fish, birds, and plant life from the risks that the trash brings, and you’re also sending a message to other people that someone cares about this piece of water or land — that it’s not a place to dump their unwanted items.

Many community cleanup activities have a social benefit, too: You’re out with your community, finding like-minded people and possibly making great friends. That’s why projects such as these are excellent for everyone — families, single people, and groups of friends or coworkers.

The following organizations have myriad opportunities for tending to the land:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may not be the first organization you think of when it comes to volunteering to protect the environment, but the Corps offers a wide range of opportunities in locations across the country. It even has its own volunteer hotline to match you up with those opportunities: 1-800-VOL-TEER (1-800-865-8337). You can help with trail building and maintenance, wildlife habitat restoration, and shoreline cleanup.

  • The Nature Conservancy works across the United States and around the world to protect the land and water on which life — plants, animals, and natural communities — depends for survival. This can include getting rid of exotic or invasive species on land or in water, running inventory on plants and animals in a particular area, planting trees, cleaning up natural areas, maintaining fences, assisting with prescribed burns that help forests regenerate, and even working in offices to help with marketing or administration.

  • National Public Lands Day gives volunteers a hands-on opportunity each year to get involved with their local, state, and federal lands. It started in 1994 with 700 volunteers and has now grown to nearly 100,000 people getting out and helping on the designated day (usually near the end of September). Along with building trails and bridges and planting trees, volunteers remove trash and invasive plants from public lands.

If you find a piece of land or water that needs some tender loving care, ask your local municipality, county, or conservation groups what plans they have for cleaning it up. If no plans exist, come up with some of your own.

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