Since the founding of the program in 2017, the Grounds Keepers have collected over 17,000 pounds of trash that have been removed from trails, parks and waterways. The goal of the program is to “Leave it Better”, and with the help of dedicated, eager individuals, the Grounds Keepers impact has grown each year.
This year the program received almost 200 applications and after making a few tough decisions, the 5th class of Grounds Keepers was selected. Including 22 individuals, set up in teams of two to clean up 10 regions around the country and now, the world, thanks to their first international Grounds Keepers.
Who are the Grounds Keepers?
“Every Grounds Keeper has previously completed a thru-hike or various sections of hikes and paddling trips, has a passion for Leave No Trace ethics, is strong in mind and body, and is committed to doing their very best to pick up as much trash as possible while outdoors.” – thegroundskeepers.org
What’s it like being a Grounds Keeper?
“Some things in life leave their mark on you in ways you could have never imagined. As outdoorists, we have all had those moments that forever change us. Whether it’s a moment surrounded by a breathtaking landscape or something that tested your resolve, there is an experience that will stay with you and shape you forever. That is exactly what Granite Gear’s Grounds Keepers program has done for me.” Britany Greenwalt, a two-time Grounds Keepers Alumni.
We asked Britany more about her experience as a Grounds Keeper and what advice she would give to anyone considering joining the program in the future.
How did you get Involved with the Grounds Keepers Program?
“I was not new to the stewardship space when a former Grounds Keeper encouraged me to apply for the 2019 team. I had already been doing work for my outdoor stewardship-focused non-profit, The 11th Essential which encourages people who adventure to add an extra bag for trash to their essential items.
I jumped at the chance to apply and was honored to be named a Grounds Keeper, even more so when I was asked to return for a second year as part of the Legacy Team in 2020.”
What was it like being a Grounds Keeper through the year of a pandemic in 2020?
“It’s safe to say that 2020 didn’t turn out how we were expecting. However, even with lockdowns and closures, our team found ways to reach our goals and continue the Grounds Keepers mission. We knew these outdoor spaces would need our help more than usual as people flocked to parks for some reprieve from their homes. We still had a job to do, and we wanted to do it safely.
In my beautiful home state of Ohio in the Hocking Hills region, the Hocking Hills State Park actually sees higher visitation than some National Parks, including the one in Ohio. Because of its already high visitation and its narrow trails, it was closed most of spring and summer and reopened just before the July 4th weekend. When I headed down to hike at dawn the next day, I couldn’t believe it had barely been open 24 hours and I ended up pulling out huge amounts of trash.”
How has your time as a Grounds Keeper influenced your passion for stewardship?
Hocking Hills actually inspired me to start my non-profit, The 11th Essential, and working as a Grounds Keeper kept me passionate about developing the program. This year, I am working on our by-laws and rebuilding an advisory board. I will be working with my local parks district to map out a youth education program that will focus on 3rd and 4th graders who, at this age, are eligible for the free national parks pass.
The ultimate goal is to create an educational system to help reach as many people as possible. The more education, the more advocates created for our outdoor spaces. I think this will keep me fairly busy post-Grounds Keepers.”
What advice would you give to the 2021 Grounds Keepers?
“You will get frustrated but you must not let that make you jaded. Focus on the people you meet and inspire along the way. Know that every little piece is making a big impact.”
What can we do to get involved or participate locally?
“For those who aren’t a part of the Grounds Keepers program, you can still make an impact. You don’t have to be a part of the team to give back to the places that give you so much.
Pack an extra bag for trash on every adventure and don’t walk past those pieces of old wrappers on the side of the trail. Volunteer at a local park for maintenance or host a clean-up when it is safe to do so. Most important, make stewardship a priority on every adventure.”
More About Britany (she/her) is a Midwest-based outdoorist, activist and Executive Director and founder of the stewardship-based non-profit, 11th Essential. Britany travels part-time in van cleaning up parks across the country.
Big Agnes is a proud sponsor of the Grounds Keepers program and the individuals who choose to help clean up our wild places and “Leave it Better”, thank you and welcome 2021 Grounds Keepers!