County cleanup draws support from Ridge Project

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

County cleanup draws support from Ridge ProjectA last-minute campaign for a virtual cleanup around Kern County got a shot of local support when Gary Charlon, founder of “Ridge Project,” agreed to help engage the local network for participation.

In past years, Kern County Public Works has organized large gatherings to target up neighborhoods, parks and other public spaces for trash-removal and other improvements.

The the pandemic has restricted direct engagement of the public, “it hasn’t diminished our desire to help!” said Zechariah Garcia, marketing and promotions associate of KCPW.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, the department is encouraging residents to volunteer 15 to 30 minutes to help clean up — even if it’s just outside their front doors.

For many years, Ridge Project coordinated similar efforts — with volunteers pitching in monthly, weekly or even daily to pull weeds, haul away litter, or leave other public spaces otherwise improved.

“Zech called me this week,” said Gary. “I told him I would be happy to help — even if it just means driving over to Bakersfield to pick up gloves and bags.”

Yellow trash bags, provided by public works, can be used by residents to collect trash and other debris. In return, the county will waive any fees for dropping those off at the landfill.

“It’s a short timeframe to get the message out, but my attitude is that some participation in our community is better than none.”

Ridge Project began as a way to foster community pride and ownership.

“We were always talking about trying to bring in more visitors, or ways to grow our community — which is great,” he said.

“But part of what we need is to be concerned about what our community looks like on behalf of those of us who live here.

“Our original motto was, ‘Our community, our responsibility.’And with that pride, I believe one of the unintended consequences is that making our community more attractive might encourage more people to want to come here.”

For many years, the regular cleanups attracted crowds of volunteers — sometimes hundreds in a single day. But as time wore on the participation dwindled to a handful of regulars. In recent years, Charlon began to let operations wind down as support evaporated.

“I think it would be great if this cleanup sparked more interest,” he said. We still occasionally pay local kids to help out, and I read recently that there are some kids out volunteering to clean up the properties of our senior residents. So there’s still some interest in the mission, I think.”

Charlon added that maybe the social-distancing is an opportunity, not a challenge, in revitalizing the effort.

“This is a great opportunity to make a positive out of a negative. For people staying home, this is a great way to give back to your community, and to teach your kids about the importance of investing. You don’t have to be in a crowd to pick up trash or pull weeds.”

Charlon said that he is working with Garcia to establish a local staging area where people can pick up supplies. But those are not necessary to participate, he noted.

“Do whatever you can, wherever you can,” he said.

Garcia said that in order to generate interest and participation, public works is encouraging volunteers to share photos on Facebook using the hashtag #KeepKernBeautiful.

“Take pictures of your amazing work!” he said. “Get creative with your cleanup efforts — make a fun pose or funny smile!”

“I think the strain on budgets is only going to get worse, and getting outside help is going to get harder. We can make a difference, but it will take all of us,” said Charlon.

“To me, and to anyone who believes in God, we know this is His property — not ours. But it’s up to us to take care of it. We can enjoy it while we are here, and our commitment to leaving it better than we found it will allow all the people who come after us to appreciate it, too.”

To arrange for pick-up of cleaning supplies, email waste@kerncounty.com by Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Pictured: Community residents turn out for a Ridge Project effort to collect trash and tidy up the landscape along College Heights Boulevard. -- News Review file photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-08-07