My name is Briana Ash. I have always enjoyed the outdoors and grew up in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay. Whenever possible, I would be in the water or on a trail. I always brought a bag to grab any trash I saw along the way, to pick up and remove from entering the local waterway. A few years ago, my husband, Phil Ash, and I took up kayaking. The boats have been the perfect addition to our outdoor lifestyle. The kayaks offered exercise and adventure while making a minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

The first year we ventured out, we realized the kayaks offered a different view of the shores of the Chesapeake. We were able to get up close and personal. We were able to pull off in areas we had not ventured before and explore them. We discovered wildlife we had not seen with our own eyes. We also found that trash is everywhere. Sadly, you can find the presence of humans without them ever being physically present in an area. Our streets lead to our streams. Our streams lead to our rivers. Our rivers lead to the Chesapeake Bay. What was once tossed in a parking lot, was now stuck in the marsh after being washed down with a heavy rain.

In 2019, my husband and I started a nonprofit that focused on the environment, The High 5 Initiative. What we found is that communities want to help, they just needed a way to, so we created a cleanup and a recycling initiative that focused on providing paths for communities to become better environmental stewards. We have also started water monitoring with Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, taking test results once a month where Rock Run meets the Susquehanna River, adopted Rock Run Road in Cecil County, and have worked with a Maryland legislator on an extended producer responsibility bill.

So far, we have removed 19,380 pounds of trash from rivers and riparian areas leading to the Chesapeake Bay with the help of hundreds of volunteers and collected about 12,000 pounds of recycling at our participating collection centers that would have otherwise made it to the landfill. The recycling we collect is sorted, ground, and shipped to the only processor in the USA to turn it back into raw material.

The past 2 years, we have kicked off our cleanup season with the Earth Day Kayak Cleanup in our current hometown of North East, MD. These cleanups were registered with Project Clean Stream as well. We decided to use kayaks because the marsh area across from the North East Community Park is not easily reached by land. In order to make this more accessible to the community, we partnered with a local rental business, Bay Venture Outfitters. They provided kayaks to preregistered volunteers who did not have one. We clean the area in early spring before the brush and grasses grow in too thick. The marsh area is where North East Creek and Stoney Run Creek meet the North East River. This area is home to many wild species, including the Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagles and beaver. It is so important to keep this area preserved for all these creatures. The marsh seems to act as a filter collecting what washes down these enormous watersheds that go all the way to Pennsylvania. This area, like most areas in Cecil County, is a source of drinking water.

It is inherently a little more dangerous having volunteers on the water. We have policies in place to protect everyone and Bay Venture also had restrictions for those borrowing kayaks. We do have CPR-certified people present as well as first aid kits. We also make sure to keep volunteers in shallow water and that they wear a floatation device as well.

This year, we had over 50 volunteers who helped collect 3,160 pounds, which included 36 tires on April 9th. Some of the weird things that were found were a baby doll stroller, a creepy baby, and a heating oil drum. The messages in the bottles were interesting, but the weirdest thing award went to the deer butt. We had not seen one of those before. The deer butt was just for target practice and not a real one. You should leave dead animals if you see them, nature will handle it.

Our cleanup on May 14th is to clear the shores of the Susquehanna River on the Cecil County side prior to the state-endangered Northern Map Turtle’s nesting season. Bog Turtle Brewery will be offering free refillable growlers to the first 24 people over the age of 21 to sign in. After that, we will be in Elk Neck State Park for a little lighter load followed by a hike on the Beaver Marsh Trail on June 5th to celebrate World Environmental Day. If you would like to register or contribute, please email .

Briana Ash is the co-founder of  The High 5 Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to practicing, promoting, and enabling the conservation of nature through sustainable practices. 

To learn more about our upcoming volunteer events, please click here.