Helping Mother Earth
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and courtesy of Jeremy Kuelker and Emma Barefoot April 22, 2020
UD Outing Club members safely celebrate Earth Day by picking up trash wherever they are
Members of the Outing Club know first hand: You have to plan for the unexpected. These University of Delaware students, dedicated to enjoying and honoring the environment, have dealt with equipment breakage while bouldering in New Jersey. They have endured driving rain during three-day backpacking adventures in West Virginia. And they have, after misinterpreting a map, found themselves tubing down a Pennsylvania river an hour-and-a-half longer than anticipated.
In other words: These Blue Hens know how to make the best of a bad situation.
So, when a global pandemic derailed the Outing Club’s plans for marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, they set to work devising a new strategy. With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) relegating all 2,000 members to their respective homes around the country, officers knew they wouldn’t be able to host an in-person big-group trash clean-up, their go-to annual celebration. Instead, the students planned a socially distanced “trash bash.” On this landmark day, Outing Club participants are picking up litter wherever they are in the world for 50 minutes — an homage to the 50-year milestone. For many members, the event is a way to give back to nature for everything it’s brought into their lives.
“For a lot of us, being outside offers a mental break from all the stress that comes with being a college student,” said Clare Bondi, a senior elementary education major and Outing Club president. On Earth Day, she’ll pick up trash at White Clay Creek State Park, in Newark, Delaware. “For me, personally, this club has expanded my horizons — I’ve met so many people I never would have connected with otherwise.”
Typically, the club’s student leaders organize affordable day, weekend, or week-long trips throughout the semester. Over Winter Session, members traveled to Texas and New Mexico to explore national parks, including Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupe Mountains and White Sands. In February, they stayed local, hiking 25 minutes from campus at Susquehanna State Park. In early March (before social distancing guidelines were put in place), they hit the slopes in Vermont. No matter where group members have gone, they’ve adhered to principles set forth by the Leave No Trace Center for Environmental Ethics. This Colorado-based nonprofit encourages responsible enjoyment of the outdoors, including the proper disposal of waste and the building of campfires with minimal environmental impact.
But now, given social distancing mandates, all remaining trips for the semester have been canceled, including canoeing and rafting adventures set for May. It would be understandable if club members were feeling unsettled — or even angry — about this upending of plans. Instead, they are leaning on lessons gleaned from time outside, like the importance of staying calm and cultivating community when things get tough.
Take that aforementioned backpacking trip through the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia. Considering the constant rain and the 30-degree temperatures while camping at night, covering 30 miles in three days through the Allegheny Mountain Range could have been a miserable experience. But because members of the Outing Club rallied around their own — encouraging and uplifting one another — they pulled through.
“We were suffering in the best way,” said Emma Barefoot, a junior studying wildlife ecology and conservation who will conduct her cleanup along a six-mile walking route in the suburbs of Greenwich, Connecticut. “That sense of community is important to Blue Hens, and it doesn’t disappear just because we can’t be together. This event is one way to celebrate that.”
All members of UD and the wider community are welcome to join Outing Club efforts on Earth Day. Participants are encouraged to document their experience cleaning up trash in a neighborhood, along a community trail or in a nearby park by posting photos on social media, using the hashtag #UDOCtrashbash. The best or most creative Blue Hen photo will receive a prize, including a sticker, T-shirt and a reserved spot on an Outing Club trip of their choosing next semester.
But the real prize, according to club member and mechanical engineering major Jeremy Kuelker, is developing an appreciation for nature that lasts beyond April 22.
“It’s great to have one day where everyone is doing their part to pitch in,” Kuelker said before picking up trash around his home in Morristown, New Jersey. “But there are 364 other days in a year. It is important to carry that spirit with you and make the difference you can, no matter how small. Some people don’t see the point of picking up a single piece of garbage that crosses your path, but who knows? Someone might see you and feel compelled to do the same. You just don’t know how far something like this can spread.”