1Thing: How to Organize a Neighborhood Park Cleanup

August 7, 2018

By Lori Melton

Working together to clean up a neighborhood park builds a sense of community, helps preserve and protect nature, and fosters a sense of pride in beautifying local surroundings. Plus, crew members get added benefits of enjoying fresh air, physical exercise and spending time with others who are willing to help a worthy a cause. Planning this kind of event may seem overwhelming, but the result is worth it when you see the positive impact a group effort can make. These tips will help you organize and conduct a rewarding and successful cleanup.

Recruit Volunteers

Volunteers are the most important part of any clean up effort because you need people to get the job done. Start recruiting by holding a neighborhood association meeting or creating a Cleanup Event page on Facebook, a local community site like Nextdoor, or another social media site. You can also send out an email blast or make a series of phone calls to gather family members, friends, neighbors, local students, church groups and more, asking for willing participants.

Be sure to tell respondents to spread the word, invite their friends and family, and share the event on their social media channels. The more volunteers the better, especially if the park is large.

Identify and Prioritize Cleanup Tasks

Once you have a rough idea of how many volunteers are joining the effort, you’ll want to walk through the park and make a list of the most important tasks to tackle beyond trash pickup. Consider things like pruning trees and shrubs, weeding flower beds, raking leaves, removing dead plants and debris and cleaning restrooms.

Review your list with a city or public official to determine what items you and your crew can handle and what should be left to a professional. For instance, downed tree limbs or cracked concrete on a bike path are probably out of your scope. Also ask the appropriate city or community officials for equipment donations such as rakes, brooms, pruning tools, waste and recycle bins, etc.

Set a Date and Time

Weekends in the fall before it snows or spring after snow melts are generally the best times to plan a cleanup. Set a date at least one month in advance to allow prep time and for participants to mark their schedules. (Remember to pick a backup date in case of bad weather).

Set start and end times according to crew size and how much work needs to be done. Generally, you’ll want to start the day early, allow for breaks and stop before people get too tired. Also pick a designated meeting spot (e.g., the park entrance or pavilion).

Share the date, time and meeting place with all volunteers and remind them to dress for the weather. Also ask them to bring work gloves, rakes, shovels, gardening tools, brooms, and large trash bags, depending on your needs.

Publicize the Event

Build community enthusiasm and involvement by publicizing your cleanup. Post flyers in public areas, make announcements in local newspapers, school, church and city newsletters/websites and local radio stations. Doing this will keep residents informed, generate buzz and hopefully garner more volunteers.

Form Teams and Assign Tasks on Cleanup Day

When cleanup day arrives, have an easily identifiable “command post" for volunteers to check in, get needed supplies, and get an assignment. Consider age and physical strength when doling out jobs. Kids of all ages make great trash collectors and you may want to put them in groups, to make working more fun.

Safety should also be top priority. Don’t send anyone alone to dangerous or remote areas, and don’t give someone more than they can physically handle. Assign teams to big jobs, and have a first aid kid on hand in case someone gets injured.

Celebrate Achievements and Express Gratitude

Overall, you want to foster a sense of personal and community pride and achievement by working together to make your neighborhood park more beautiful. Have a water cooler and snacks on hand during cleanup, if possible. Or host a potluck picnic afterward to celebrate your achievement and thank volunteers. Follow up with thank you notes, emails or a social media post to thank everyone for a job well done.