"We can make small, simple adjustments to our day-to-day to ensure we are playing a part in making a difference."
Right now, there is a heavy feeling inside each of us — this lingering sense that we should be doing more. Between COVID, political divisions and environmental issues, it's a challenge to find where you can make an impact to better the world. Around this time last year, I found myself really struggling with this while I watched tourists from all over disrupt my local community.
I live around the San Bernardino National Forest, in the mountains of Southern California. During the Summer of 2020, our community experienced a surge of visitors, driving their RVs and campers to our local campgrounds. With local COVID lockdowns being loosened and mask mandates still in full effect, it was no surprise that people flocked to the outdoors for an escape — a return to some form of normalcy that only the outdoors could provide. As great as it was for our local economy to have these visitors, it was apparent that they were not caring for the sensitive landscapes they were visiting. At National Forests across the country, the upticks in visitors brought on a rise in littering, illegal campfires, vandalism, and the destruction of protected habitats. Seeing this happen sparked a fire in me. I was not going to sit by and feel hopeless. I sought out where and how I could help.
Thanks to a few personal connections and the trusty Internet, I tracked down local groups to partner with and combined forces. Working with the Southern California Mountains Foundation, Southern California Mountaineers Association and the Access Fund, we organized collective forest cleanups. It wasn't long before we were all together picking up trash, watering vegetation, and dispersing illegal fire pits. The leaders from each group taught us about preservation techniques and how to instate these practices in our own lives. The whole experience made me feel like I was finally in control. I was doing my part, chipping away at the lingering issues that bring me down and curbing the feeling like I was never doing enough.
Since our first group cleanup, I have been out a bunch of times with small groups of family and friends. Continuing the work has helped me feel empowered to make an impact in the world. I've also realized how easy it is to take the simple steps to achieve change for problems that feel daunting.
We don't need to go out and heal the entire world. It's not our duty to fix everything. But we can make small, simple adjustments to our day-to-day to ensure we are playing a part in making a difference. Eventually, these new routines become healthy habits.
Since I began doing my own work in the local community, I started a small list of little changes to create a healthy change. Some of these you already know, but this is how we can begin to do our part:
- Get involved with your community by linking with the parks & recreation, forest service, local nonprofits. See what's going on and how you can donate your time, even if it's just an hour or two a month.
- Grab a trash bag and go clean up. We don't need a guide or professional to help us to understand that trash is an issue. One bag, one hour. My son and I like to think of this as a treasure hunt.
- Be an advocate for nature, learn about the local guidelines and restrictions in the local rural area. What wildlife lives near you? Are there fire regulations? Camping restrictions? By getting educated, we can do our part by spreading the word to grow awareness and appreciation of the sensitive areas.
- Practice Leave No Trace ethics! Simply reading about these is an easy first step to living a sustainable life and having a smaller footprint in nature. These seven principles can be applied anytime out in nature and can be fun conversation topics with those who are eager to get outdoors.
- Create time for volunteer activities can be difficult with a work schedule, family etc. You can still do your part by donating money to large or local organizations like Access Fund, the forest service and cleanup groups.
- We all have our favorite brands we like to buy from (this is one of my biggest shifts as of late), what are the companies are you investing in for clothing, food, household supplies, doing for nature? Create a list of ethical companies that you spend your hard-earned money on. Minimal, biodegradable packaging, organic fabrics, recycled linens, donating back to the community, there are many things these large corporations can do to help. Be sure your money is spent wisely and rest easy on that.
- Remember how powerful your day-to-day choices are, using less plastic and investing in reusable goods like bags, water bottles. This is a simple one that can make a large impact in numbers. Be the change, show off your rad new water bottle, donate your old clothing instead of throwing it away, talk with your friends about making simple lifestyle changes to help too.
I know you are already thinking of things you currently do to help restore our planet. Pat yourself on the back and realize you are already playing a role; heck, you're reading this blog! Just one small adjustment, gesture, conversation, motion... it all adds up.
Join us on June 12-13 for #BurtonCleanUpDays to help clean up our playground in the mountains, parks and beaches. For every Instagram post made (tagging us and #BurtonCleanUpDays) we'll be planting a tree with One Tree Planted. Every bit of trash collected is a win for nature, so head out and don't forget to spread the word.