The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay hosts an annual watershed-wide cleanup initiative called Project Clean Stream. 

Project Clean Stream (PCS) is a favorite among staff because of its hands-on efforts and the community’s connection with their local lands and waterways. Not only are volunteers preventing trash from entering waterways, but they are also learning the importance of picking up litter, and hopefully, after spending hours picking up trash, they will feel compelled to share what they’ve learned with their friends and family. Each year PCS brings thousands of volunteers from communities, companies, and conservationists together throughout the watershed. The program’s goal is to clean up our lands and waterways and offer a connection to your local community. 

As the Alliance celebrates 50 years of bay conservation, Project Clean Stream celebrates 17 years of boots on the ground efforts that directly impact our communities. Since its launch in 2004, PCS has seen a significant increase in the number of cleanup events, volunteers, and trash removed. What started as a single-day event has now turned into a year-round effort. 

In 2004, Project Clean Stream was organized and funded by the Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills in Baltimore County, Maryland. Irvine hosted a one-day cleanup every year on the first Saturday in April. After ten years of this annual event, they started to gain more and more interest to the point that volunteers offered to host events in other Baltimore areas. At this time, the Alliance’s Maryland office was in Baltimore, and former staff members, Lou Etgen and Kate Dowling, helped Irvine with its expansion efforts. 

“Eco-Explorers,” students participate in Project Clean Stream through Irvine Nature Center. (Photo by Irvine Nature Center)

“Kate Dowling and I tag teamed. Her job was to go to the office that Saturday and was the point person for trash pick up, press releases, etc.” Lou reminisces on the fun chaos of running multiple events within the same day. “I was going site to site in different locations, stopping in and making sure everyone had enough supplies, moving on to the next site, and checking on people throughout the day.”

However, as PCS grew, it became harder to coordinate all the cleanup sites on the same day. “We tried to make it one day, but because of so many different groups and conflicts, it ended up being over the entire month,” Kate explains the growth of the event from one day to a month-long event! The Alliance was interested at this time to expand PCS into local people engaging with their local watershed. This is when the Alliance offered small stipends to local watershed organizations to encourage groups to host their own event in their local community. “To keep it going and expand, we would offer financial incentives to do that,” Lou explained.  

The Alliance soon coordinated groups throughout Maryland and connected with smaller watershed groups to help them host their own events. However, what REALLY made PCS grow was when former staff member and web developer Dan Brellis created an online registration site. 

Sometime around 2010-2013, Dan Brellis and Joanne Freeman moved the registration site for volunteers and site captains onto a handy new site that could handle the traffic. “We had expanded to Pennsylvania by partnering with Keep PA Beautiful and to Richmond and Northern Virginia with the Alice Ferguson Foundation. We were reaching 200 sites a season.” Joanna explained the need for an updated site. Dan Brellis was the web developer at the Alliance and worked with a contractor to develop a registration system where users could easily register their site and upload their data after their cleanup event. 

In 2011 the Alliance helped coordinate 250 cleanup events, with roughly 5,000 volunteers, removing over 300,000 pounds of trash. 

“Clean Bread & Cheese Creek” in 2018. (Photo by John Long/Clean Bread and Cheese Creek)

“We were still working with our local watershed groups with help from major sponsorships from Perdue and Dominion,” Joanna explained. “The PCS season kept growing because we had the kick-off the first weekend in April, but then we had groups who wanted to have Earth Day events or wait for it to get warmer out.” 

Another former staff member who helped coordinate PCS was Ted Wolfe. Ted started at the Alliance in February of 2017, “Dan and Joanna were leaving simultaneously, and the PCS season was just about to kick-off in March.” The registration site that Dan had been implementing had just launched. “Before that, Joanna had to go in and manually enter all the data volunteers sent,” Ted explained. 

Over the years, the number of sites, volunteers, and trash removed has grown significantly, but our commitment to maintaining the local connection with PCS has remained the same. Today, through PCS, the Alliance works with watershed groups, neighborhoods, businesses both small and large, and anyone else who’s interested in hosting an event. Now we average roughly 2.5 million pounds of trash removed with more than 500,000 volunteers across thousands of clean up sites.  

It’s clear through the significant growth of PCS over the years that litter is an issue that the community cares about. Picking up trash to keep it out of our waterways may seem like a small gesture, but it can have a big impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay waters that we depend on for our quality of life. Every piece of trash that we collect serves as a reminder that we have a responsibility to protect our shared waters by taking individual action to fight pollution at the source.

2020 Project Clean Stream Kick-off Event at the Alliance’s HQ office. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

PCS and the partnerships that make it possible are a shining example of one of the Alliance’s core attributes. For 50 years, the Alliance has been partnering with companies, communities, and conservationists to restore the lands and waters of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. In 2021 as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we hope to continue this effort while maintaining our updated safety guidelines and procedures. Keeping up with the tradition, our 2021 PCS signups kicked off on Friday, April 2nd, and will run through the summer! 

Interested in volunteering at our upcoming PCS events? Click here to find an event near you or to register your own!