The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream returns on April 2 to kick off its 13th year of helping residents across the watershed become stewards of their local streams and rivers. Begun in Baltimore in 2002 as a small local effort, Project Clean Stream has grown into the largest regional volunteer stream cleanup in the Bay watershed.

Last year, Project Clean Stream saw its greatest success. Nearly 44,000 volunteers working at 2,200 sites removed more than 3.1 million pounds of trash and debris from local streams, rivers and parks. This was a dramatic increase over 2014, when nearly 8,000 volunteers at 260 sites removed almost 425,000 pounds of trash.

Thanks to new partnerships across the Chesapeake watershed, the Alliance hopes to recruit 60,000 volunteers this year and to register 3,000 cleanup sites with the goal of collecting 4 million pounds of trash, such as plastic bottles, tires and other discarded items. For the third year in a row, we expect to have partners and cleanup sites in all six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia!

Luna Leopold, the world-famous hydrologist, once said, “Our commitment to the environment, and to each other, is written in the quality of water we send downstream.”

While trash is not the greatest water quality threat to the Chesapeake Bay, it is definitely an indicator of stream health and the degree of community awareness in caring for local waterways. Removing trash is an easy way for people to get involved and to take action.

While the initial impact of Project Clean Stream creates a cleaner, safer, more beautiful Bay watershed, Project Clean Stream aims much deeper.  By engaging volunteers in a meaningful outdoor experience that connects them to their local watershed and community, Project Clean Stream encourages participants to become lifelong environmental stewards. We hope that volunteers, once connected, will continue to expand their involvement in watershed protection and restoration efforts.

“This has been an eye-opening experience…we found a lot of Styrofoam. I am never buying Styrofoam again,” said cleanup volunteer Khara Norris.

Through Project Clean Stream, the Alliance has the opportunity each year to give local volunteers a hands-on experience that provides not only a chance to make a difference in their community but also to discover how their daily actions can impact their environment. Project Clean Stream is helping to slowly change people’s perception of the items they use on a daily basis — water bottles, Styrofoam containers and plastic bags.

The Alliance works hard to organize and coordinate Project Clean Stream every year, but our success is ultimately the result of the network of hundreds of watershed organizations, community groups, schools, churches, local governments and businesses who partner with us and host cleanup sites — ensuring that volunteers have a safe and meaningful experience.

The Alliance supports these groups by coordinating logistics and training site captains, as well as providing trash bags, gloves and other supplies and services such as trash pickup. Local hosts provide Project Clean Stream volunteers with an opportunity to learn about their neighborhood stream and the issues impacting the health of their communities. After the cleanups, these local groups can continue to keep Project Clean Stream volunteers involved year-round.

For many of the volunteers, a Project Clean Stream event may be the first time they have made a connection with the stream in their neighborhood, behind their school, or near their office. Every year, volunteers from across the region share their stories about how their long-term involvement in watershed advocacy began with a Project Clean Stream experience. Additionally, they create personal connections with the cleanup sites and become lasting local environmental stewards, ensuring those cleanup sites stay clean for years to come.

This year, Project Clean Stream has created new and exciting partnerships across the Chesapeake watershed. Affiliates of Keep America Beautiful, including Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and Keep Annapolis Beautiful, have become strong local partners. These partnerships ensure the engagement of an ever-widening range of Chesapeake Bay residents.

In 2016, our signature partnership with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful will result in a dramatic increase in our impact on the water quality of Pennsylvania streams. Almost half of the state is in the Chesapeake Bay Basin, and the Susquehanna River supplies about 50 percent of the freshwater entering the Bay. Project Clean Stream reinforces the critical relationship of Pennsylvanians to a cleaner Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay.

Another exciting new partnership this year unites the Alliance’s Project Clean Stream with the efforts of the Alice Ferguson Foundation and their Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. By combining forces, both organizations hope to rally more residents of the Potomac watershed to volunteer, and to keep them engaged in environmental issues and organizational efforts in their communities.

“It is amazing to see this grassroots momentum grow year after year. This is not just a victory for the rivers, but a victory for our communities. A cleanup is an opportunity for environmental stewardship and offers a unique perspective on the current culture of a throwaway society” said Hannah Seligmann, volunteer Maryland coordinator at the Alice Ferguson Foundation.

This year, the Alliance is focused on learning about sites that need to be cleaned up. Watershed residents can download the WaterReporter App on their smart phones to help identify locations needing our attention. The app helps users pinpoint debris and dump sites so that we can share the information with local Project Clean Stream site captains and get volunteers out to care for them.

Make a difference in your community. To register for a cleanup or volunteer at a site near you, visit cleanstream.allianceforthebay.org or contact Joanna Freeman at jfreeman@allianceforthebay.org or 443-949-0575.