Friends of the Wissahickon

Thank You, MLK Day of Service Volunteers, for Helping Philly Rivers

While MLK Day doesn't have the same environmental focus as say, Earth Day, the fact is, a lot of the work being done in King's honor during today's Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service—an event being touted as the biggest MLK Day volunteer effort in the nation—will help Philly's rivers and creeks.

Some events, like MLK Day cleanups planned for Bartram's Garden, the Schuylkill River Trail in Manayunk and along the Pennypack and Tacony creeks in Northeast Philly, are directly targeting our watersheds:

But even cleanup events in neighborhoods where you don't see a river or creek can help protect local aquatic wildlife. 

How?

MLK Day of Service Will Help Philly Rivers. Here's How:

Dozens of bags of “floatable” trash pulled from the Delaware River during a 2015 volunteer cleanup. MLK Day of Service volunteers who participate in neighborhood trash removal will also be helping our rivers because cleaner streets = cleaner creeks and rivers. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Dozens of bags of “floatable” trash pulled from the Delaware River during a 2015 volunteer cleanup. MLK Day of Service volunteers who participate in neighborhood trash removal will also be helping our rivers because cleaner streets = cleaner creeks and rivers. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

As far as resumes go, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s is pretty hard to top.

A 200,000-person march on Washington that was crucial in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act? Check.

A year-long bus boycott that eventually led to a Supreme Court ruling declaring segregated buses unconstitutional? Check.

The list of Dr. King’s accomplishments is long, but one thing you don’t hear too much about is King the environmentalist. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t connections between his activism and the green movement that helped to bring us transformational legislation like the Clean Water Act.

Despite the fact his 1968 assassination predated the first Earth Day by two years, many credit MLK’s work as laying the foundation for the environmental justice movement—a movement guided by the belief that all people, no matter their race or income level, have an equal right to things like safe, clean drinking water and health-promoting green space.

No matter how you think of Dr. King’s legacy, the fact is, much of the work that will be done in his honor during the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service—an event being touted as the biggest MLK Day volunteer effort in the nation—will help our rivers.

How?

Earth Day Exhibit Reveals Philly's Trash Problem

Artist Bradley Maule works on "One Man's Trash." Fairmount Water Works Photo.
Artist Bradley Maule works on his "One Man's Trash" exhibit. Fairmount Water Works photo.

Anyone who’s taken the time to enjoy the many scenic opportunities afforded by Philly’s waterways has had that moment—you’re soaking in the green and sunshine, marveling at the natural beauty of a river or stream cutting through the urban landscape. And then, some ugly piece of litter breaks the mirage, reminding you that you are, indeed, still in a very big city. One with a trash problem.

Bradley Maule, a Pennsylvania native and Philly transplant, has had that moment more times than he cares to count. Like many nature lovers, he often had the impulse to pick up litter someone else carelessly dropped while hiking along one of his favorite haunts, the Wissahickon Creek in the city’s Northwest. His distaste for the pervasive trash, though, soon morphed into a sort of obsession. Out of this obsession was born “One Man’s Trash,” the latest exhibit at our Fairmount Water Works, which opens (quite appropriately) for today’s Earth Day festivities.

The first in a series of “Culture and Conversation” events that celebrate the Water Works’ 200th anniversary, “One Man’s Trash” is the culmination of a year’s worth of trash collected by Maule during weekly walks in Wissahickon Valley Park, an 1,800-acre wooded gem with the Wissahickon Creek at its heart. The Mt. Airy resident and artist laid out his plans for the project on his website, Philly Skyline, and described his yearlong effort for readers:

Each week, once a week, for all of 2014, I went on 2-3 hour hikes, picking up all the litter I encountered. If something was too big to haul out, I made a note of it on my phone’s text app and made arrangements to remove it with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Wissahickon, the official partners on this project.

Luckily for us, Maule drew the line at picking up “organic litter”—a distinction that means we don’t have to look at a display of rotting apple cores or bags of dog waste!

The Water Works will unveil Maule’s work, which includes infographics reflecting his meticulous tally of collected litter, during a 5:30 p.m. opening reception. The exhibit will be on display through June 26, after which all the junk he’s collected will be recycled, donated and otherwise disposed of.

"A timely exhibit for Earth Day, ‘One Man's Trash’ brings to the forefront the amount of litter accrued on land, and provides an insightful look into how our behavior truly affects our water supply," says Karen Young, executive director of Fairmount Water Works.

When asked what he wants people to take away from the exhibit, Maule says he wants to inspire “…deeper consideration for the waste we each generate” and to foster awareness “that we need to treat our parks better.” In addition to compiling all the trash, he took time to look at the broader waste tied to a specific trail-side menace: the plastic water bottle.

"One of the most common objects I encountered over the course of the year was plastic water bottles—255 of them (with 43 brand names)," Maule told us. Maule also says his focus on the Wissahickon underscored a troubling connection between littering in parks and fouling up our waterways. "Almost all of Philly's big parks — Fairmount, Wissahickon, Pennypack, Cobbs, Tacony, Poquessing—exist where they do because of watersheds," notes Maule. "Unless it's picked up and properly disposed of, litter ultimately ends up in our waterways, whether directly in a place like the Wissahickon, or after a journey from city streets through gutters and sewers."

Click here to register for the “One Man’s Trash exhibit. The event is free, but space is limited.

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