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Major Clean Up in Joshua Tree

Major Clean Up in Joshua Tree

  • Decades worth of trash and debris were removed from public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Joshua Tree, CA on March 10th. Two hundred plus volunteers from the off-road community contributed.
  • The clean up was coordinated by John Kingston (@roaminglost) and Jordan Kepler (@lost.sasquatch) after watching and reading coverage of vandalism and trash overflow in National Parks during the recent government shutdown.
  • Two dumpsters forty feet in length were filled and removed from the site on Monday morning, along with several runs to the dump by a twelve foot flatbed trailer during the weekend.
  • Despite the robust efforts from volunteers, years worth of litter and debris remains scattered through the public land requiring additional resources and volunteer coordination. Plan for an additional trash removal weekend are in the works for the Fall with additional assistance from the BLM.
  • Overland Bound Members from as far away as Arizona were part of the organization and planning of the event

By Corrie Murguia
Photos Barry J Holmes

Thursday, March 14th 2019
Joshua Tree, CA

Like many people in December 2018, John Kingston read and listened to news reports of National Parks being overwhelmed with trash and waste during the US government shut down. As visitors continued to pour into the park system while Rangers were in limbo, reports of vandalism in Joshua Tree National Park hit him the hardest.

John Kingston at work in Joshua Tree
Saturday, March 9th 2019 - John Kingston sorting garbage and debris collected on BLM land near Joshua Tree National Park

“I kept seeing this negativity in the news,” said Kingston. “I got sick of it and said let’s do something about it. I have a following (on social media), why not use it to put it out there and see who shows up?”

With just a few posts on Instagram, he had fifty people commited to help out. He brought in his friend Jordan Kepler to help with the planning.

At first Kingston was nervous about coordinating this type of event. “I’m just a photographer who wanted to use their following for good.”

He focused his initial efforts by reaching out to organizations who work within Joshua Tree National Park. He was told that there was no additional help needed at the time of the shut down; local volunteer groups were already handling the disposal of trash at campgrounds.

Helping Where Help Was Most Needed

Once Kingston and Kepler knew JTNP was covered, focus shifted to BLM land just outside the park that was in dire need of attention from years of illegal dumping abuse. The land is often used as overflow camping for Joshua Tree visitors, and the last time Kingston was there he wouldn’t let his dog outside due to scattered broken glass.

“I wouldn’t let him anywhere near it. How crazy is that?”

Much of the trash was fairly new, but some of it had been sitting in the desert for decades. Everything from shot up appliances to a 1960s vehicle sitting in a ravine dotted the landscape.

“There was ballistic glass sitting out there, and I think someone posted there was an abnormal amount of underwear”, said Kingston. Kepler added that a large amount of Barbie legs were present.

Volunteers were not able to remove this vehicle during the weekend; however, plans are in the works for a full excavation with proper equipment.

As Kingston continued to get the word out about the early January clean up, locals and local organizations stepped up to help. Friends of Joshua Tree made sure they had gloves and gear, and local realtor Mark Allenbach rented a flatbed trailer and provided dumpsters for their crew to dispose of the waste collected. At the end of the day on January 6th, 30 vehicles and about 50 people pitched in and picked up what they could. And everyone realized very quickly that there was much more that needed to be done.

A small sample of the different types of trash and debris removed from the land.

"When's the next one?"

Plans for a follow up effort quickly fell into place due to the response of the initial January crew and the reaction on social media. A date was set for March 9th-10th, and even more support quickly flooded in from individuals and businesses. Kingston and Kepler turned again to social media to promote the clean up.

“We obviously had a lot of people chip in and help”, reflected Kepler. “What we didn’t realize was how willing the BLM was to get amenities out there to support the event with porta-potties and a washing station. We found out they have an entire budget set aside for the costs of delivering and removing dumpsters.”

Allenbach continued to be a huge assistance with the operation by securing the forty foot dumpsters (one given for free, one offered at a discount by Burtec), and providing gallons of coffee and loaves of coffeecake each morning for volunteers. Colin Sauter, a local firefighter and volunteer, supplied a flatbed trailer that made several runs to the dump during the weekend. Numerous companies sent over gear and equipment to be raffled off at the end of the day.

One factor that contributed to the success of the clean up weekend was accessibility. “Almost any vehicle could come out there,” said Kepler.  “Everything from RVs to ATVs to the Subaru community, Toyotas, full size rigs. It was cool. People’s love for Joshua Tree brought out every branch of the outdoor community.”

Volunteers are debriefed Saturday, March 9th.

And how much was collected at the end of the weekend? Tons. Kingston and Kepler easily estimate 10+ tons were removed or repurposed. (Final numbers are pending confirmation from Burtec.) Repurposed items included tires delivered to a local raceway and scrap metal for local Joshua Tree artists.

And the harder question: How much remains? Lots. “Unfortunately, I think our actions are more of a statement,” commented Kingston. “But… I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do. I’m not going to just talk about it.” He and Kepler are eyeing the deeper canyons on the Joshua Tree BLM land, and also are considering areas along the 395 highway in California and Mono County.

One thing is for certain about Kingston. This isn’t the last you’ll see him roaming public lands picking up after others. He’s in this for the long haul.

A second major clean up effort at Joshua Tree BLM site will be scheduled for Fall 2019 once the weather permits.

How Can I Help?

There are many different ways you can help pitch in to keep public lands clean and accessible. Here are a few:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Tread Lightly principles. Use these whenever you venture out on land or water.
  2. Leave it better than you found it. This is an Overland Bound Founding Principle. Take out more than you bring in by being prepared with additional trash bags and/or and external ruck bag designated for trash on the outside of your vehicle.
  3. Connect with local groups who work on or maintain trails in your region, and ask when their next volunteer work day will be hosted. Join up and join in!
  4. Create a cleanup of your own. Send an email to info@overlandbound.com and we will help create a Trail Guardian clean up event in Rally Point. Invite Overland Bound members and registered forum users within a 100 mile radius of the clean up location. Trail Guardian Rally Points are free to use and do not require membership.

Please take proper safety precautions when cleaning up public lands. Contact local land use authorities about your intent, and use safety gear such as working gloves and closed toe boots. 

Corrie Co-Founder, Marketing and Editor @ Overland Bound. Often found behind the camera, keyboard or steering wheel. (But not all at once.)


  1. A big thanks to all who participated in the clean up every where I go if I see trash instead of just walking around it I’ll stop and pick it up some time I feel like I’m banging my head on the tree but it’s been drilled into me to always leave a place better then the way you found it