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Keeping Austin Trails Clean

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In the morning on a couple of Sundays a month, a group of Austinite runners gather along one of the many trails in the area — not to run or make their new PR, but to pick up any trash that lines the trail.

After having to stay inside during the beginning of COVID-19, RAW Runners and friends Jordan Whittle and Collin Findlay formed a subgroup of the running group dedicated to cleaning the trails: the Clean Trail Club.

“We figured it would be a great way to give back to the community that has given us, as runners, so much. So, we started picking up trash every other weekend, and it’s just such an easy way to give back and take care of the trail that has taken care of us,” co-founder of the Clean Trail Club, Jordan Whittle, says. 

The Clean Trail Club normally picks up trash along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Town Lake as well as parts of Shoal Creek, because both are heavily frequented and central to the city, Whittle says. 

“We pick up probably like 10 big trash bags full of trash each time we go out,” Whittle says. 

Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Over the course of the last few months, the group has grown to have around 25 to 30 regulars for each cleaning day, Whittle says. To be respectful during the pandemic, everyone in the group wears a mask and practices social distancing. In addition, once everyone gets to the meeting location, the group will split up into smaller groups, and everyone will meet back up at a designated time — to figure out who wins the Golden Bucket. 

To conclude each meeting, the Clean Trail Club member who finds the coolest or most interesting piece of trash will receive the Golden Bucket, and the winner will get to choose the clean-up location for the CTC’s next meeting. 

Over the course of one cleanup, Whittle says, even though they only cover about a one-mile radius of area, the group is diligent about doing their best to fully clean up those areas, making sure to pick up “little ticket” items such as bottle caps and cigarette butts. 

“It’s small. No one wants to pick that up, and it’s just as impactful as something big,” Whittle says. “So, we try to do a really good job of cleaning up — you know, smaller sections, but doing a thorough job on that sub-section.”

To schedule meetings, the CTC will make an announcement on their Instagram page about the next date and time of the clean-up. Then, they will ask that members or people looking to come to direct message the account to let them know of their attendance. 

Collin Findlay, other co-founder of the Clean Trail Club, runs the group’s social media and says he refers people to the page when people inquire about getting involved, since many people will see them and want to get involved while they are picking up trash along the trail.

“I think our plans for the future are just to kind of keep expanding as we have been. It started out with like, you know, six of us just getting up in the morning and going with a couple trash bags to pick up trash,” Findlay says.

Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Findlay says, since the beginning of creating the club, he has been more motivated than ever to carry bags in his car and on his person — and inspires his friends to do the same. 

“You can throw a trash bag in your bag whenever you go around the lake, and you can pick up trash — even one little Walmart bag-full of beer cans is better than nothing,” Findlay says, “and if 20 people were to do that in one day, think of the impact that could make.”

Whittle and Findlay say the one item the Clean Trail Club sees the most of are beer cans or hard seltzer cans along the sides of the trails. 

“People come here to have fun and stuff, so people will throw their beer cans in the creek and that washes down to the lake,” Findlay says. 

According to the City of Austin’s website, approximately 11 tons of trash are pulled out of Town Lake each year.

Even though the group sees a lot of trash whenever they are doing a cleanup, Findlay says that no matter what, the group stays positive and turns their mindset into viewing it as an opportunity. 

“I think, for the most part, we keep the trail club positive. We come across these big conglomerates of trash. Sometimes…in your brain, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh man, this is really disheartening to see. This is our beautiful community that we all share.’ But I think we try to kind of subvert that thought and change it into, ‘Oh, look at all this trash we can pick up. Look how beautiful we can make this place right now.’”

Occasionally, when the group comes upon pieces of trash they cannot properly dispose of, such as mattresses and car bumpers (both have been found by the CTC), Whittle says they will call Austin 311, and the trash is picked up immediately.

Even though the group began with a majority of runners, Whittle says anyone is welcome to come out and join the club. 

Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons.

“We try to make it as inclusive as possible and try to be welcoming and caring — we want everyone to come have a beer with us after so we can get to know one another,” Whittle says.

The best way to keep Austin clean, Whittle says, is to do one’s part by picking up after themselves and encouraging friends to do the same. 

“Austin is such a beautiful city that so many people get to come take advantage of, whether that be traveling in or doing a bachelorette party here,” Whittle says. “We want to make sure that people continue to think it’s beautiful — and we want to do our part to make sure that happens.”

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