River Junky Wins Volunteer of the Year Award From State
River Cleanup: Social Media Brings Network of Stewards Together to Clean Waterways, Including the Cowlitz River
When Jarrod Kirkley landed a steelhead with a hypodermic needle sticking out of its side on the Kalama River last year, he decided it was time to do his part to clean up local waterways. A year later, his effort, known as River Junky, has gained a network of stewards that span the country as well as Australia, Japan and Canada.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently recognized the group with its Volunteer of the Year award.
“We are a waterway and river conservation group. Basically it started out as people could post pictures of themselves picking up trash by a river or waterway and we would send them a gift for free,” explained Kirkley, 34, of Castle Rock. “That was how it started, and then we saw the need for bigger projects.”
The largest of those river cleanup projects was on the Skykomish River, where a group of 165 volunteers cleared 26,000 pounds of garbage in just over two hours. Kirkley sad that the effort focused mostly on clearing out abandoned homeless encampments, and the haul included car rims, tires, washing machines and couches.
River Junky has also conducted large scale cleanup work closer to home on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers. Additional group cleanup efforts have been conducted on the Puyallup River, but the way that River Junky is set up through social media allows for anyone go clean up anything at any time.
Kirkley says the group boasts more than 60,000 volunteers scattered across the globe. “With the amount of social media coming in there is typically a couple hundred pounds being moved per day,” said Kirkley.
Those uncommon efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“River Junky is bringing people together to clean up our rivers — and making it fun,” said Chris Conklin, an assistant program manager with the department. “Offering promotions, gifts and prizes, the organization and its volunteers are providing a new way to maintain the quality of the outdoor experiences we all enjoy.”
With hazards like hypodermic needles present at the cleanup sites, Kirkley has taken steps to ensure the safety of volunteers by employing a team of seven people who are certified at hazardous materials removal. Once a site is reported for cleanup, the specialists go in first and do a sweep so regular folks can come in and just worry about getting their hands dirty in a wholesome sort of way.
“We’re trying our best to reward people for picking up the trash and to raise awareness for what it does because the trash lets off deadly toxins into the water,” said Kirkley. “We have such a large following that I can band 50 people together in hour and be on location to remove stuff.”
The next big cleanup event is scheduled for July 8 on the Skykomish River. It is the second time the Snohomish County Sheriff has called out the River Junky crew to help clean things up. Eventually, Kirkley would like to see his loose collection of volunteers become folded into a state agency, such as the WDFW, so that they might expand their reach. At this early juncture though, Kirkley is plenty pleased with how things have turned out so far.
“It’s great. It’s a really good feeling of accomplishment. It just means that we're going somewhere and we’ve got other eyes on us,” explained KIrkley.
For additional information on the River Junky group, go online to RiverJunky.us, or visit its page on Facebook in order to see the latest cleanup efforts.