After last year's successful cleanup event for National Public Lands Day, the Battle of Downtown Trash Clean-Up has expanded and been rebranded as the Battle of Central Arkansas.
Started last year as a way to help clean up Hot Springs National Park while tapping into the city's "competitive spirit," the event has been expanded to include Lake Ouachita State Park and Ouachita National Forest.
"Last year, we had an unprecedented turnout," Kendra Barat, volunteer coordinator for Hot Springs National Park, said. "We were not expecting it. It was the first year we had ever done it, this model of a trash cleanup competition, and this year, we wanted to expand on that."
Established in 1994 as Public Lands Appreciation Day, National Public Lands Day gives people the chance to volunteer to help engage with the outdoors.
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National Public Lands Day was started in 1994 as a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and Times Mirror magazine.
"Actually, in 1995, was the first time I was involved with it, and then it was referred to as Public Lands Appreciation Day, or PLAD," Bill Jackson, acting deputy ranger for the Caddo-Womble District of the Ouachita National Forest, said. "So while working in Kentucky for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Cumberland, we hosted a volunteer day to build a trail and do some cleanup and so on. We hosted 2,500 volunteers that day, one of the largest at that time. Since that time, they have a new partner, which is the National Environmental Education Foundation, and it is now changed to National Public Lands Day."
The state park already had a cleanup event scheduled for Sept. 16, but Park Interpreter Emily Stubblefield said the state park wanted to participate in the competition with HSNP.
"We are excited to have so many cleanup opportunities," she said. "Lake Ouachita is a beautiful lake. We find it is a very special place, but we're kind of biased since we're on the lake all the time. Between the Keep Arkansas Beautiful cleanup that we have Sept. 16 and then the National Public Lands Day cleanup on (Saturday), we're hoping to get as many islands and shoreline areas cleaned around the state park as possible."
With the majority of Lake Ouachita surrounded by the ONF, the cleanup on Saturday will likely focus on shoreline and islands under the U.S. Forest Service's purview.
"The plan for National Public Lands Day, as far as our end goes, is to have everybody collect at the state park to kind of kick off the event, and then we'll take folks out on the lake, and we'll clean up the surrounding shoreline and islands," Stubblefield said.
"We encourage so many folks to get out and use the resource that's right adjacent to the state park and on Lake Ouachita, and we stop at the islands on many of our boat tours, that kind of thing, snorkeling trips. And so it's important for us to practice what we preach on keeping Lake Ouachita so clean and beautiful," she said.
Stubblefield said there are approximately 1,000 miles of shoreline and 200 islands on Lake Ouachita, and the state park is completely surrounded by the national forest.
"That's a lot just for one agency to cover, and since we have so much involvement and usage on the lake as a whole -- and we use them as well for programs -- we have the resources to help keep them clean," she said. "The cleanup that I will have the week before (Sept. 16), we will also focus on the state park, but the main focus on (Saturday) we will start off with the state park, but be cleaning the islands and shorelines surrounding Lake Ouachita State Park."
Jackson said he already had a cleanup event scheduled for National Public Lands Day when he was contacted about the possible partnership.
"We were planning a cleanup day, anyway, and said, 'We'll just go ahead and participate in this as part of the challenge they put out there for us,'" he said. "So we are gathering it together, and we're contacting the area schools here to see if they can participate with us. And we'll be meeting here at the office that Saturday morning, Sept. 23, and we'll start registering folks at 8 o'clock. We'll sign them up as volunteers, and then we'll provide them their assignments. Then we'll do the weigh-in and see how much tonnage of trash that we collected."
The Caddo-Womble Ranger District is over 3,000 acres, Jackson said, so there will likely be plenty of areas that volunteers will be able to clean.
"As we drive the forest roads, we find locations where people dump trash on us, so those areas are being earmarked," he said. "We were going to start cleaning them up beforehand, but we'll do it on the 23rd and get as much as we can that day. So it'll be everything from soda cans tossed on forest roads to large amounts of household trash that's been dumped on us and car parts, as well."
Barat said last year's cleanup consisted of about five teams and a total of 50 people, including three individuals who were not part of a team.
"Together, everybody picked up over 1,100 pounds of trash out of Hot Springs National Park," she said.
"The winning team, which was the Hot Springs Police Department rookies, they picked up 475 pounds of trash just themselves, and that was in ... a five-hour time block, but everybody ran out of steam after like four hours, which was still impressive.
"So we were blown away by the amount of people that showed up and what they were able to do in a few hours when working together," she said.
With about 5,500 acres of land in the national park, Barat said there are plenty of areas for volunteers to look for trash.
"We pretty much give the volunteers free rein; they can choose where they want to go," she said.
"If they're smart, they'll strategize ahead of time and scope some places out, but basically all trails, along roadways, picnic areas, the campground, along Bathhouse Row -- everything is fair game.
"We're encouraging volunteers this year to really try their best to stay on and near trails. That is for resource protection and also safety reasons, so just stay as close to trails as possible, but we know that folks throw trash off-trail, so veering slightly off is not that big of a deal. But yeah, pretty much the whole park is fair game," Barat said.
The internal competition at HSNP is returning as well with the "Trashiest Champion" taking home a trash can trophy, and all volunteers in the national park will receive a free T-shirt.
To register for the cleanup at HSNP, visit https://www.volunteer.gov and search for "Battle of Central Arkansas." For the state park cleanup, contact Stubblefield at 501-293-3375 or [email protected], and registration for the ONF cleanup will be on Saturday at 8 a.m. at the ranger office at 1523 Highway 270 east in Mount Ida.
For more information about the ONF cleanup, call the Caddo-Womble Ranger office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 870-876-2101.
CLARIFICATION: The event then known as Public Lands Appreciation Day was started on July 30, 1994, as a partnership between Times Mirror Magazine and the Bureau of Land Management. The National Park Service, and many other organizations across the country, joined the event the following year.