David and I did cleanups whenever we could. We sorted out items that could be recycled, and turned in the cans for cash at City Market so we could put gas in the tank to go out and do more cleanups. Each time I was out walking in natural areas I found that my connection to the earth grew deeper, while my ability to see and feel what was right there in front of me got sharper and sharper. When we finished cleaning up an area we would walk it and enjoy the beauty, without the distraction of aluminum cans, fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, beer bottles, diapers and the like. It was like finding a whole new world — one that filled me with a deep sense of joy. Eventually, I came to realize that David knew it was there all along.
In 2000, life brought us to Moab, where we continued doing cleanups. One of our favorite sites was along the banks and in the waters of Mill Creek, on the in-town parkway system. We would regularly fill 40-gallon bags with trash and recycling from very small stretches of the creek. To increase our impact, I longed to start a “Friends of the Parkway” project modeled after my hometown of Philadelphia’s successful “Friends of the Wissahickon.” Because the two of us could easily gather massive amounts of littered trash and recycling, we wondered what a group of people, working together, could accomplish.
We formed Moab Solutions and advertised for people to join us for our first meeting in the old library on May 12, 2004. Seven people attended, and together we decided to promote reducing over recycling, and recycling over wasting, through diverse hands-on projects and outreach. We also decided to hold monthly group cleanups in a variety of places all over this gorgeous region. The city gave us the green light for Friends of the Parkway, and we got busy looking for groups and individuals that might want to adopt small sections of the parkway and help keep them clean.
In 2008, while doing cleanups on the parkway, we stumbled upon homeless camps. We usually shied away from the folks drinking on the parkway. We were afraid of them. But finally I decided, along with original Solutions founder and superstar Carol Hoggard, to invite them to join us in cleaning up. We offered them a small sum of money to remove trash and recycling — and they loved the idea.
Our ulterior motive was to find out who these people were and how they came to be homeless. We wanted to see if we could help them help themselves. We conferred with the police chief and city council and got the go-ahead to do a weekly meet-up with the homeless. For five years we got to know the homeless, and gradually, with the help of community members, churches, and other organizations, got folks into rehab, reunited with family, into apartments, into desperately needed health care appointments, and more. We trained them to do yard work using hand tools, and how to sort recycling at the recycle center. Money earned went to rent and food. And the parkway was kept clean and beautiful!
Sadly, we watched many of them die from the ravages of drug or alcohol abuse. “Big” Ed Brady, Bill Thompson, Kim “Dewey” Hill, “Hitchhiker” John Golembeski, Henderson John, and Dani Miller will live on in our memories. Many more in our community have passed and many more suffer in the tortured landscape of addiction. We need and want to do and offer more. I think we are on the right track to do so going forward. But it is slow going.
Moab Solutions has several other projects, like Common Thread/Operation Cooperation. In its 10th year, we work with off-road groups and others to minimize off-trail damage and maximize recycling at Potato Salad Hill. Mill Creek Partnership works to keep the power dam area of the canyon clean and the trails open and well maintained. We also remove invasive weeds to encourage native plants to thrive.
I feel extremely fortunate to be involved with Moab Solutions. I am very proud of the fact that hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash and recycling has passed directly through my hands as we redirect it from the land to better places. We’d love to have you join us!
For more information about Moab Solutions, visit www.moab-solutions.org. For more information about the Mill Creek Partnership, visit www.millcreekpartnership.net.
Sara Melnicoff is the founder and executive director of Moab Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring natural areas, removing trash and recycling from trails, streams and byways, and working with the homeless to help them help themselves. She also volunteers with the Salvation Army’s Moab unit.