Picture this: a truck tailgate, strewn with garbage — empty cans of Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, Coors Light, a few plastic bottles — all hauled from ponds at Weldon Springs State Park.
Your first reaction might be anger at the people abusing a natural resource. That would be understandable. But the second reaction is where I choose to focus: gratitude for the person who took time to clean up after the litterbugs.
This picture was just one post of several in a new Facebook group called Illinois Waterway Cleanup Crew. We can (and should!) debate Facebook’s overall value, but in this isolated instance I look past the platform to the people.
Ron Doolin, of Darien, started the group last month to connect with other people who love using the state’s lakes and rivers and will commit to clean them up for current and future generations as well as the native species who rely on these ecosystems.
I wanted to spotlight this effort today for two main reasons. The first is tying into one of the connecting themes of my writing: Illinoisans should make their government work for them. The page includes a transcript of Doolin’s email exchange with the Illinois Department of Resources, sent after he observed substantial debris on the East Branch of the DuPage River.
The agency noted government bodies typically don’t require anything of people looking to clean up trash on rivers, but did caution about the rights of property owners and making sure any cleaning operations don’t cross the line into trespassing. These might seem like mundane details, but that kind of procedural effort is the foundational work that makes the difference between a good idea and making an actual difference.
Which points to the second reason for discussing this group: encouragement. At a time when so much of what we read and talk about are important, heavy issues far beyond the power of one individual to change, it remains true that restoring balance can sometimes be as simple as doing good work for a cause larger than yourself.
It’s not just picking up trash, though certainly there’s no shortage of need, but anything that speaks to taking care of the world at large. Walking dogs at an animal shelter. Weeding flower beds in a city park. Driving people to medical appointments. Delivering meals to the homebound. And so much more.
Going forward, I’d love to use my platform to share examples of such efforts. Maybe you’d like to send a short email about a particularly meaningful contribution. Or perhaps you have a group like the Illinois Waterway Cleanup Group that needs some publicity or new blood. As space and contributions allow, let’s share stories of improving our state.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:email@example.com ]firstname.lastname@example.org.