On a warm weekday morning in late March, while most Durham residents are at work or school, a group of about ten volunteers don bright green vests, sturdy gloves and old sneakers for a Creek Week cleanup event. They carry giant trash bags and begin making their way along the winding creek, picking up trash as they go.
They collect hundreds of pounds of trash and recyclables, not to mention mud and dirt on their clothes. The brave ones even wander into the creek, wading through murky water to retrieve garbage.
It’s not glamorous, but at the end of the day, the volunteers gather their dozens of bags brimming with trash, and they feel a sense of accomplishment.
“I’m not out saving the world or anything, but I still feel like I’m doing my part to help out the environment,” said Kenzie Ward, a 28-year-old Durham resident who participated in one of the creek cleanups.
Ward was one of about 200 volunteers who participated in nearly 40 Creek Week events in 2017. The events, which included both cleanup and educational opportunities, took place from March 18–25 at various sites in Durham. This year’s Creek Week was Durham’s ninth.
Tania Dautlick is the executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful, Inc., the nonprofit that organizes the Creek Week events. She said they like to focus a week on cleaning waterways because clean water is essential to communities.
“We’re trying to help people understand the value and importance of clean water in Durham,” Dautlick said. “We also include cleanups of parks and streets because any trash that washes down from a park into a storm drain ends up in a creek.”
Dautlick said Durham’s drinking water comes from local lakes, primarily Lake Michie. Durham’s stormwater also feeds into lakes that supply drinking water for other communities, including Cary and Raleigh. Because of the focus on clean waterways, Dautlick said that Keep Durham Beautiful partners with Durham’s Division of Stormwater and Geographic Information Systems to coordinate events.
“We hope that we can help people become more conscious of how their actions directly impact their waterways,” she said.
Dautlick said that in addition to cleanup events, Creek Week hosted a number of educational, recreational and artistic events centered around water. These included nature walks, canoe tours of waterways and painting storm drains.
Laine Roberts, a conservation specialist in the Durham’s Department of Water Management, coordinated a tour of two of Durham’s water reclamation facilities. She said these tours serve to educate community members of how wastewater is treated.
“The biggest impact is the awareness it brings to the importance of treating wastewater,” Roberts said. “It’s also really interesting to learn about the biological processes that go into treating wastewater.”
Roberts also coordinated creek cleanup events along Camden Avenue and Ellerbe Creek. She said one of the best parts of creek cleanups is the interesting objects found while cleaning.
“Probably the most interesting thing we found this year was a bundle of silverware,” Roberts said. “You never really know what sorts of things you’ll find.”
Keep Durham Beautiful also hosts other environmentally-centered events throughout the year. Dautlick said volunteers recently planted trees at East End Park and have established tree orchards at Eastway Elementary School.
“We organize lots of beautification projects,” Dautlick said. “There’s always an opportunity to volunteer and make the community and environment a more beautiful place.”
For upcoming Keep Durham Beautiful events, visit www.keepdurhambeautiful.org