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How to Organize a Successful Cleanup

A cleanup can be as small as one person removing a gum wrapper from public land adjacent to his backyard. Other projects might involve as few as a dozen scouts collecting litter along two-track roads, or several hundred citizens removing everything from old couches to abandoned cars. The number of volunteers needed for a project depends on the size of the cleanup you would like to tackle.

If you need more people than your organization can provide, try others.

Schools--If you are in a college town, contact local fraternities and sororities. Many high schools have community service programs that give students extra credit for participation. Students from athletic teams and Future Farmers of America are good prospects.

Civic Organizations--Contact groups such as the Rotary, senior citizens, the Lion's Club, 4-H Clubs, Scouts, Conservation Clubs, and so on.

Advertise--Advertising in the local papers is very effective. It is possible that your local newspaper even offers free ad space for community service projects. Try to plan far enough in advance to give prospective volunteers a chance to sign up. Most importantly, provide clear information about dates, location, and what volunteers should bring with them and what they will be expected to do when they get there.  Send a flyer to cleanforests@cleanforests.org and we will distribute it to all known volunteers in your area.


Other suggestions--Offering prizes, T-shirts, caps, or certificates is a great way to recognize volunteers and those who donate to the cause. Hopefully, local donors will be willing to supply the group with snacks or other items. If so, make sure to emphasize that point when attempting to recruit people. Also make sure to give any contributors recognition in local newspapers.

Major cleanups may need portable toilets delivered. A local rental business might be willing to donate, or at least give a reduced rate, for some positive publicity.

Know the regulations and special conditions for the area you'll visit.  Schedule your trip to avoid periods of high use (such as hunting seasons).  Volunteers must obey all state and Federal Land Rules and Regulations.

What to consider when selecting a site...

How big of a project do we want it to be?
If your group is a Cub Scout group, a site with mostly small litter might be appropriate. On the other hand, if your group is a four-wheel drive club, you might consider pulling junk cars out of the woods.

How much time will the cleanup take? The site should be large enough for the entire group to participate but not so large that they cannot clean it up that day. Some groups enjoy camping on public lands after the cleanup; make sure you obtain any necessary permits from the USFS or DNR.

Do we know what type of trash and amounts to expect? Different types of trash need different disposal methods (for example, a lot of fast-food wrappings compared to a refrigerator). Inventory your site before the cleanup so your group knows what to expect.

Do we have the proper equipment to clean it up? Make sure that at least 2 or 3 pickup trucks are available within your group and that they don't mind hauling trash in them. If you show up to a site expecting to use hand shovels when a back hoe would have been more appropriate, there will be a problem. Try to inventory your site prior to the cleanup day so you come prepared.

Where can the trash be disposed of? Small amounts can be disposed of with the volunteer's household refuse. Larger items will take more planning (refer to the section on Trash Disposal). Contact the landfill or transfer station where you plan to take the trash and ask for free disposal or at least a price break for this one-time cleanup. If you are unable to get tipping fees deferred, don't panic. A couple of local (preferably large) merchants will probably be willing to underwrite disposal costs for favorable publicity. Ask your most persuasive group leader to help. If you still need help, contact an Adopt-a-Forest program manager or Ada Takacs, volunteer coordinator, at 1-231-534-5569.

Who needs to know about the cleanup? Contact all groups assisting in the actual cleanup. If desired, contact all local media and politicians to let them know what, where, when, etc. Invite them to attend. Remind group leaders a few days in advance. Meet cleanup groups, politicians, and media on site. Make sure that anybody who wants recognition has the opportunity to talk to the media or have their picture taken. Have a few catch phrases to give to the media yourself, such as an estimated amount of trash illegally dumped in the area, information regarding the scope of the problem. This information is often found in our newsletters.

What to Bring and Wear

High top work boots with non-skid soles
Hat (for sun protection)
Long pants
Long-sleeved shirt
Bright orange vest (near roads and during hunting seasons)
Safety glasses/hard hat

Heavy-duty work gloves
Extra trash bags
Trash poker
Insect repellent
Water bottle/refreshments
Hand cleanser (baby wipes work well)
Progress report (so people can sign in)
First aid kit
Emergency telephone numbers
Tarp and bungee cords to secure load
Compass and/or GPS
Area maps

Contacts to Make

There is no need to contact a project manager before your cleanup unless you need assistance. If you have any questions or comments regarding the Adopt-a-Forest program, contact the representative for your area:
Click here to contact Adopt-a-Forest on-line

Or Call: Ada Takacs, Volunteer Coordinator, 989.275.5151, Ext. 2049


Department of Natural Resources Operations Service Centers

Baraga - 906-353-6651
Bay City - 989-684-9141
Cadillac - 231-775-9727
Gaylord - 989-732-3541
Southfield - 248-359-9040
Marquette - 906-228-6561
Newberry - 906-293-5131
Plainwell - 269-685-6851
Roscommon - 989-275-5151

United States Forest Service Supervisors Offices
Hiawatha National Forest - 906-786-4062
Huron-Manistee - 231-775-5023
Ottawa National Forest - 906-932-1330

Other Contacts: You may want to invite local media or politicians to your cleanup. If you feel you do not have enough volunteers, consider displaying a flyer in your local grocery store or ask the local radio station to announce it.

If proof of dumping is obtained (such as an address or name from the trash), make sure to make a note of it on your progress report.

If you witness a person dumping do not confront them. If you can get a general description of the vehicle, how many people were in it, and/or a license plate number, turn it over to your local authorities or call the above telephone number for your area.

Federal Land and Cultural Resources: If cultural resources are found during federal land cleanups, contact your local United States Forest Service office. Cultural resources include items 50 years or older (e.g., bottles, Indian burial grounds, arrow heads, and so on).

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