The Clean-Up: My Story

By: Melanie Klym

Image: Melanie’s Cleaning Up, Photo by Bruce MacGregor

As long as there’s a need to clean up Johnson Creek, I will commit to leading the in-water work. My first cleanup was at 92nd & Flavel through SOLVE for my AmeriCorps service project in 2009 and it’s expanded to cover the lower six miles of the creek (from the confluence at the Willamette all the way to I-205) and further upstream teams at Cedar Crossing and in Gresham.

As we covered more miles in the creek we discovered ‘legacy trash’ that had been present for decades. Our cleanup focuses on the removal of trash that is potentially harmful to wildlife and water quality, metals especially chrome-plated, tires, plastics, treated lumber, batteries, and anything small enough to be ingested by wildlife. We do not remove anything big enough that the removal will create more harm than benefit, like shopping carts and tires totally embedded in the creek bank or bottom with plants growing through them.

In general we only pick up trash that is within the water or can be reached while standing in the creek and we take care not to pick up items that may be personal belongings. We did a modified cleanup with social distancing and extra safety protocols in 2020 and removed over two tons of trash!

Aside from making a direct, visible improvement to water quality and watershed health the cleanup is one of the few opportunities people have to directly connect with the creek. Walking through the creek is a very different experience than working on the banks. My very favorite part of the cleanup is what I call the “duckling moment” where the volunteers are standing on the banks and looking dubious about getting in the water and then when the captain and a couple of team members go in the rest follow and all is well. I look forward to my pre-cleanup walk throughs with the team captain as my chance to get my feet wet and check out how conditions have changed over the years. In addition to volunteering at the watershed-wide and other restoration events and serving on the Board of Directors, the cleanup has been my most direct connection with the creek and the surrounding community.

At first, I only wanted to remove trash (especially tires) from the creek and was wary of the houseless people living along the creek because I didn’t know them. Several of those very creekside neighbors helped in that first cleanup and have continued to participate throughout the years. I bring extra event flyers with me during the pre-cleanup walkthroughs to spread the word about the event and reiterate that we are picking up trash within the water only. Oftentimes the people I meet along the way have great insights into the wildlife along the creek as well as locations of larger dumped items that might need extra effort.

With the help of the Overland Park Coalition we made the annual creek cleanup a reason to celebrate the great things about Johnson Creek and the role we have in caring for it together. Norbert and Lisa Loske hosted the after-cleanup lunch and awards including the Golden Garbage Can for the weirdest, coolest, or most unusual thing found in the creek each year. Each team gets a chance to tell the story of their experience in the creek and present their item for consideration. I encourage captains to make scenes incorporating multiple elements – my favorite was “picnic in the creek” which featured a picnic basket, lawn chair, parasol and wine bottle. Though I can hope that someday we won’t need to pull trash out of the creek I continue to look forward to seeing my friends and getting directly in the creek each year. I hope you join us in this 14-year tradition on Saturday, August 21, 2021 from 8:30 AM to 1 PM. Check out the event post at to sign up!

Thanks to our funders and partners: Clackamas Water Environment Services, North Clackamas Parks and Recreation, Portland, Parks and Recreation, SOLVE, Central City Concern, Ground Score, Sunset Garbage Collection, Hoodview Disposal and Recycling, Rose CDC, and the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services for their partnership and support. Also a big thanks to the Mintkeski Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation. Thanks for working with us to create a brighter future for Johnson Creek!

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