Through a community program by Granite Gear, 15 people have spent the year removing litter from trails and parks across the country.
If the hiking trail near you seems a little cleaner than usual, it’s probably because you (or someone else) cleaned it up.
That’s the mission behind Granite Gear‘s Grounds Keepers program, which rewards hikers with a set of soft gear for a year of scavenging trash in the wilderness.
Relying on 15 volunteers, the program collected more trash than ever this year – 10,000 pounds, in fact. By weight, this is equivalent to approximately 250,000 plastic bottles, all collected by hand.
“It’s hard to imagine what the Grounds Keepers have accomplished this year. Five tons of trash,” said Julie Bacon, Granite Gear Sales and Marketing Manager. “We are so grateful for the hard work of everyone involved and the huge impact this program continues to have nationwide.”
Or, in the words of the younger generation, “Be trashy; all the cool kids do.
Granite Gear’s group of trash pickers includes a diverse selection from the outdoor community. Each year, the company receives 150 to 250 applications for the program and selects only 15 to 30.
The program started in 2017 and has since branched out to hikers, kayakers and nature lovers. When they visit beaches, national parks or campgrounds, they do so with lots of trash bags.
In total, the program has removed 35,000 pounds of waste from nature, mostly bar wrappers, bottle tops and toilet paper.
A family’s garbage collection mission
While all of Granite Gear’s Ground Keepers have helped out this year, there’s no denying that one family has gone a little further than the rest.
After landing a spot this year, Kaitlin Musser got her whole family to participate. The still-traveling family picked up 6,006 pounds of trash — a feat Musser documented on Instagram.
This family effort comes with a bittersweet twist, however. Musser applied for the program at the request of his adopted son – who has since returned to his biological family after 9 years with Musser.
The family certainly wanted to fight climate change and protect public lands. But their work was mostly about “the love of a little boy,” Musser said.
“You wouldn’t think hauling books of other people’s trash off public lands would be a way of healing,” Musser said. “We applied as groundskeepers because our legal guardian son wanted to leave the wild paths better than he found them. His love became our love and when we painfully said goodbye after raising him for nine years, that love kept us from falling apart.
Groundskeepers provide education
Among hundreds of applicants, Grounds Keepers earn their jobs based on their passion for the outdoors, their cleanup goals, their commitment to DEI initiatives and their outdoor experience, said Julie Bacon, who manages the program.
Retha “Pikachu” Charette, for example, is nearing her 2022 goal of 1,000 pounds. She said the program should remind people that it’s not too late to save the planet.
“I’ve always picked up litter on a hike, but being a member of the Grounds Keepers lets me know I’m not alone,” Charette said. “Being a defender can be tough at times and being part of this team reminds me that a few dedicated people really do make a difference.”
For Bacon, the Grounds Keepers program isn’t about the amount of litter removed from parks and trails. It’s about setting an example for the outdoor community.
Instead of pointing fingers at those who are simply walking by a pile of trash, Grounds Keepers provides “gentle education” on how to improve the outdoors for everyone, Bacon said.
“The goal is to bring people in and build community,” Bacon said. Even though it’s a small group, each one is making waves in their own community… We just hope that trickles down.
Interested in being a groundskeeper? Granite Gear begins accepting applications for 2023 in November. Those selected will receive a whole bunch of cool gear corporate sponsors, including backpacks, hiking boots, and a variety of camping gear.
For more information on the Grounds Keepers program, visit the Grounds Keepers website.