Mud, sweat, and trash: Another year of the Johnson Creek Clean-Up

Written by Marlee Eckman

The Johnson Creek Clean-Up is the most exciting stewardship event on JCWC’s calendar. At what other event can you wade in Johnson Creek and get a beaver’s-eye view of the watershed? When else can you watch tiny fish dart around your knees as you help a new friend drag a shopping cart out of the water? Is there any other time you can relax on the grass with more than a hundred of your watershed neighbors and vote on the coolest piece of trash pulled from the creek that morning?


We’ve been hosting the Clean-Up since 2008 and each year has been a huge success–due entirely to the amazing volunteers who turn out to clean up their local waterway. This year, over 150 volunteers spent the morning of Saturday, August 20th in or around Johnson Creek, picking up trash and litter. They collected almost 400 bags of trash–yes, you read that right, FOUR HUNDRED BAGS–along with many other items too big to fit in a garbage bag, including a dozen shopping carts, 7 mattresses, 8 tires, and 6 electric scooters. The total? 5.9 tons of trash!

Two volunteers holding their submissions for the golden garbage can award, a life size doll head and golden elephant. Picture taken by Marissa Eckman.

For some volunteers, this was their first time joining the  Clean-Up, while others have been coming for years. Some came by themselves, or with a friend, but many came as part of a team. OTAK, Treecology, PGE, Precision Castparts, Friends of Errol Heights, Friends of Tideman Johnson, Northwest Family Services, Boys Team Charity of Happy Valley, the Clackamas and Happy Valley Rotary Clubs, and the PDX Single 30 & 40 Somethings Meetup group all fielded teams this year. Walker Industries also fielded a team at a smaller Clean-Up two days before the big event.

The Berkeley Place downstream team posing with the trash they pulled out of the creek. The haul consists of 8 full garbage bags, a mattress, and two tires. Picture taken by Cathy Corlett

Our volunteers are what make the Clean-Up a success, but our many partners and funders are what make it possible. Clackamas Water Environment Services, Metro, and the Mintkeski Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation all provided generous funding for the event. Portland Parks and Recreation, along with their interns from the Lents Youth Initiative, and North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District all helped with planning, site support, and trash hauling. SOLVE provided supplies and outreach. Ground Score provided outreach to the houseless community prior to the event. Central City Concern went above and beyond while helping to collect and haul trash. Hoodview Disposal and Recycling and Sunset Garbage collection donated dumpsters and hauling services. Rebel Cricket Screen Prints produced the t-shirts our volunteers got muddy, and Juliet Maggi created the beautiful design that graced those t-shirts. And last but not least, Casa de Tamales provided delicious catering for the after-party at Mill Park.

The Willamette Upstream team poses with a mountain of trash. Including multiple shopping carts, bike tires, and a lounge chair. The Willamette Upstream reach is often one of the most challenging stretch of the creek. Picture taken by Sharon Klein.

This year was the first year since the onset of the pandemic that volunteers were able to gather after the Clean-Up for a free picnic lunch and the famous Golden Trash Can Awards. There are many benefits to the Clean-Up, from improving water quality to enhancing native wildlife habitat to beautifying public greenspaces, but one of the greatest benefits is the strengthening of communities. Seeing all our Clean-Up volunteers together for the first time in two years reminds us how grateful we are to be part of such an amazing community.

This year we held a competition for our Clean-up t-shirt design. Above is Juliet Maggi’s design that was chosen as the winner and can be seen on the shirts of our volunteers.

I am humbled and honored to have been a part of the 2022 Johnson Creek Clean-Up. On behalf of myself, the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, and Johnson Creek itself, I offer a profound THANK YOU to everyone who made this day a success.

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