It was hard not to smile that sunny September morning last fall, decked in my bright orange vest and armed with work gloves, a reusable trash bag, and a plastic grabber that I definitely never used to razz my husband when he wasn’t looking. After all, I was surrounded by like-minded nature lovers, was doing good in a park I adored, and the scenery was spectacular. Plus, this was Yosemite Facelift®, possibly the most upbeat and well-attended cleanup event in the country. How could I not have a great time?
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It was my second time participating. I first experienced the party-like atmosphere of the annual Yosemite Facelift® in 2019 when apparel brand Parks Project invited me to tag along on their company volunteer trip and I leapt at the chance, thrilled to cycle, hike, and wander around the park with hundreds, even thousands of other outdoor lovers, many of whom were there for the same reason I was: to pick up trash and party in the outdoors over five epic days.
I camped in the valley among dozens of other tents, woke with the sun, donned my orange vest, and collected gum wrappers and cigarette butts all afternoon. In the evening, I gathered with the excitable crowd and cheered as climbing gear and park paraphernalia was raffled away, beer flowing like water and laughter resonating within the high walls of Yosemite Valley. The camaraderie was palpable, the warmth of the experience outshining the chill fall evening air.
It felt meaningful and fulfilling, being in such a magnificent park surrounded by so many others who were passionate about protecting natural places and willing to give their time to help protect it—collecting 16,429 pounds of trash in the process. That is, after all, why Yosemite Climbing Association (YCA), the organization all about the preservation of the history of climbing in Yosemite, started the event in 2003. Founder Ken Yager was appalled by the amount of trash in the park and decided to do something about it by enlisting fellow climbers to help him clean it up.
It’s not just climbers who participate these days, it’s anyone and everyone with a passion for conservation, and I was stoked to take part again last fall, especially since this time I would be joining a smaller cadre of volunteers on the park’s doorstep in Groveland, California at the community’s very first in-person Facelift®: Act Local event.
The Rise of Act Local Facelift Events
When I arrived at Around the Horn Brewing Company in town, only 25 of us gathered around the table with the YCA banner. Smiles were shared, gloved hands shaken, beer menus perused, and maps studied as we each decided where around town we would sign up to clean.
My husband and I selected a stretch of road just a mile or so away and, upon our arrival, saw immediately why the location was selected as a cleanup location. For over an hour we used grabbers to collect glass, plastic bottles, paper, and more, filling both of our trash bags to the brim. Even then we didn’t stop. When we spotted a TV on the side of the road, which we stuffed into the trunk of our rental car. There was, after all, a competition to see who could collect the most trash by weight, and we were dead set on claiming the title.
2022 was the first year in-person Facelift®: Act Local events took place outside the park, so I was eager to help set the benchmark for years to come.
Satellite Act Local events actually kicked off in 2020 when Covid prevented the large, in-person event in Yosemite Valley from taking place, but it was mostly individuals who took part, not organized groups. Passionate citizen conservationists from around the world were encouraged to sign up, schedule their own cleanups in a park or neighborhood near them, and record the total weight of the trash they collected on an app. And in true Facelift® style, daily drawings still occurred and YCA still sent out prizes.
This was a Covid-era solution, but it was so well received that even when the headlining Facelift® event returned to Yosemite in 2021—albeit in a diminished capacity due to continuing Covid restrictions—online Act Local events continued. In 2022, in-person events were added to the roster, including in Groveland where volunteers like me worked for 156 hours to remove 1,854 pounds of trash from around the community, including that cracked TV that did indeed secure my spot as champion for most garbage collected by weight.
Afterward, I rested up at the Rush Creek Lodge and Spa and indulged in the complimentary foot soak offered to Groveland Facelift® participants, then got up the next morning, grabbed more cleaning supplies from the YCA station at Evergreen Lodge, and did it all again, this time at the underrated Hetch Hetchy entrance of Yosemite for another cleanup along the trails around the stunning reservoir.
Join a Facelift Experience Near You
Local cleanups with friends and family and neighbors are just as meaningful as the one in Yosemite National Park, especially when the land you’re caring for is the land you regularly recreate on. After all, according to Mecia Serafino, operations director at YCA, these Act Local events were created “to bring awareness that stewardship of the land can take place anywhere and everywhere.”
Now with one major gathering and 19 additional Facelift® experiences that will take place across the U.S. and Mexico by the end of this year, that’s what seems to be happening. After all, when picking up trash is this much fun, it’s hard not to want to get in on the action.
Which is why even after two days of cleanups and plenty of play and relaxation, it was with reluctance that I handed my orange vest back to volunteer coordinators with my bag of collected trash. But there’s always next time. In the meantime, I can always participate in an event closer to home with passionate people in my own community who care about environmental stewardship and enjoy nothing more than to show a little love to the places that mean the most to us.
If you want to participate in a Facelift® event near you, head to yosemiteclimbing.org and check out the “Facelift® Events” tab to see what’s happening and how to get involved from Groveland, CA to Red River Gorge, KY. You can also register for the newsletters to stay up-to-date on upcoming events that happen year-round.
Facelift® Events happening in September and October include:
- Groveland, CA
- Yosemite National Park
- Salt Lake City
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Mammoth Lakes
- South Lake Tahoe
- Red River Gorge, KY
- Oakland, CA.