Since launching the Boat Trader #CleanWake Instagram challenge and awareness campaign, we’ve been happily inspired by a surge of positive responses from boaters and water lovers across the US and the world. Those participating in the campaign have been sharing their local #CleanWake stories and illustrating how they’re doing their part to help keep our waterways clean and trash-free. When we heard Michael Walker, a boater from the Pacific Northwest in Oregon, was given a boat to help him collect more trash, we were keen to find out Michael’s full story. Turns out, he is a local treasure and has inspired change among many Clackamas River locals.
Clackamas River Is A Natural Gem
Clackamas River, near Estacada, Oregon. Image credit: Mt. Hood Territory
A great majority of rivers eventually run into our seas or the ocean. Picking up trash from waterways is an excellent way of protecting both the lakes and the sea. If you live by a beach, river, creek or a lake, get involved. Don a pair of gloves and fish out the trash from in and around the water.
The Clackamas River in Oregon has an abundance of water. Its unique ecosystem means water pours in every direction, from creeks, rivers, deep pools, ponds, to cascading waterfalls. Rare rocks, bucolic pastures, old-growth forests and curtains of falling water lures thousands of tourists here from all over the States. Ironically tourists come to visit the natural beauty, but pollution caused by the tourists is causing damage to the natural environment through the diminishing fish species. Several species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest are ‘on the brink of extinction.’ One of the last remaining wild salmon runs in the Lower Columbia Basin, and the number has diminished hugely, in part due to the trash polluting their aquatic homes.
The result of the thousands of party-goers visiting the Clackamas River every summer is several tons of trash left behind, and a large proportion ends up in the waterways. Tourists (and locals) eat and drink in the parks and river and leave their trash when it’s time to go.
Since 2003, over 44 total tons of garbage has been removed from the Clackamas River. Image credit: Michael Walker
Younger Generations Leading the Charge
Should Michael walk down to the lake, locals immediately recognize him, either from stories in the local press or from Michael speaking to them. When Michael was growing up, his dad took him skiing, hiking, camping outdoors and fishing. It is not surprising that he has a burning appreciation of the natural world and a strong desire to protect it.
At the age of sixteen, Michael reached out to Clackamas River basin council participating in two campaigns Stash the Trash. Michael asked for two sign stations to put out on either side of the river running through his family’s property to prevent people from trashing. It was a great success, and Michael saw such a difference that he asked for two more sign stations along the length of the river in the most party-prone spots which he patrols.
Michael would lay out fifty drawstring bags next to the signs to encourage people to use the bags by putting their trash in the bins provided. “Once the tourists had retired for the day, the amount of waste being left out by the end of the day was quite shocking”, says Michael. “Some days the bags would be depleted halfway through the day, I would restock them, and next to each sign would easily get through 100 bags.” Some days during peak season, Michael would set up hundreds of bags that would be used by thousands of people.
Stash the Trash bags are sponsored by local businesses. Image credit: Michael Walker
Michael identified another reason for the mass trashing, “In the parks and along the river it became evident that alcohol was a massive problem that led to massive littering, fights, and regular drownings.” It was then made illegal to have alcohol or even empty beer bottles in the parks. “Unfortunately that didn’t stop the alcohol from coming in and all it did was make people afraid of taking their used bottles to the public bins in case the police noticed. People sank their garbage in the river so that they wouldn’t get caught only made the littering problem worse.”
When Michael recognized this was an issue he spoke to the police to fight for a change. Banning drinking in the park only exacerbated the trash problem. The police agreed that to prevent the littering, they wouldn’t prosecute people caught with litter that included glass alcohol bottles and aluminum cans. Michael also has watched a noticeable increase in masks being left on the ground over the past year.
The Power Of The Spoken Word
Michael found the biggest changes happened as a result of his social interactions. He would talk to people who were trashing and asking them about the environment they want to live in the future. “Social change is a powerful tool,” says Michael. Modeling ‘best practices’ by using the bags themselves, offering them to other paddlers, and using the bags to clean up after others help change others’ behaviours. “The psychology behind why people trash is interesting. It often happens when people are drunk, and unaware of what they are doing. In order to change behaviors we need to ask people questions and open up the discussion. There is a dissonance between what people believe and what they do-our job is to help people help them to see that and to get them to realise what they value.” says Michael.
A Raft Of Trash A Day, Keeps Pollution At Bay
Michael bought a drift boat from a local fisherman named Joel a few years ago to help him fish out the river water’s trash. The boat helped Michael carry trash on the river, and he would tow up to three rafts behind his boat in order to have enough room for all the trash. However, one day he accidentally punched a hole in the boat after hitting a rock, causing the boat to sink. The boat was retrieved from the river but was damaged beyond repair. Joel, the boat salesman who heard that Michael’s boat was irreparable, helped set up a Gofundme page on Michael’s behalf.
The story captured the hearts of locals, and not long after posting it, locals raised $6k dollars to buy Michael another used drift boat, but a local boat manufacturer, Clackacraft, stepped up and agreed to build Michael a custom boat from the total raised. He describes his new boat as ‘as tough as nails’ so Michael doesn’t have to worry about it getting broken when he’s working. His new boat is much larger and will allow Michael to haul out hundreds of pounds of trash without the need for extra rafts. Michael plans to work on a second river this year. Thanks to the ‘Down the River’ campaign, an average of 1-3 tons of trash is collected from Clackamas River each year.
Michael Walker with his brand new Clackacraft boat. Image credit: Michael Walker.
Michael encourages anybody who has a boat to use it to their advantage. While local councils help clean up local parks and streets, cleaning trash from the water is everybody’s responsibility. After all, a boat is nothing without water and a man or women with no dreams!
Diving In Head First
Not only does Michael patrol the parks and rivers, but he also helps to collect the trash that has already sunk into the water by freediving, no matter how cold it is! Michael is desperately in need of diving equipment to tackle a larger area safely and more efficiently.
Share Your Own #CleanWake Story with @BoatTraderUSA on Instagram
Through the Boat Trader #CleanWake Instagram challenge, we are urging boaters (or anyone who spends time on or near the water) to do their part by picking up trash left in waterways or on the beach. Taking part in the challenge and campaign is super easy, and it’s the perfect, covid-friendly outdoor activity to get you out of your home. All you need is a bag and some gloves and then fill up your bag with as much trash as you can find near a waterway or beach, and if you have a boat – even better! Then snap a shot of your trash and share it with @BoatTraderUSA on your social feed with the hashtag #cleanwake, then nominate five of your friends by tagging them in your post!
“One individual is capable of more than you think,” says Michael. A zealous individual, the tremors of his positive energy reverberate throughout the Clackamas River area. Young minds are inherently free of impediment, and enthusiasm that younger people have is infectious.
Boat Traders Clean Wake Tips
Boaters and healthy water advocates, join the #CleanWake challenge. Let’s keep our freshwater FRESH. Follow Boat Trader’s Instagram to take part in the Clean Wake challenge.
- Plan to clean up areas where boaters and other people have been.
- Picking up near a waterway is an excellent way of preventing trash from getting into the water before it’s too late;
- Take a pair of puncture-resistant gloves with you;
- If you are going to count your trash, count as you go, to save you counting it out afterwards;
- If you have a bad back, bring a stick or a grabber;
- Post of photo of you on your clean-up on Instagram and use #cleanwake
- Nominate five friends to take part by tagging them in your Instagram story;
- Time for a well-deserved boating trip! Participate in a clean-up again the following week, or even the following month if you can!
- Try out a different location next to keep things interesting;
If you have access to diving kit and want to help Michael by providing him with the equipment to allow him to dive for trash under the water you can contact Michael on his Instagram account.
To hear about more inspiration stories, read A Clean Wake Up Call featuring Meag Schwartz, who is on a mission to pick up 1 million pieces of trash from the Great Lakes basin.
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