River Protectors

Riversport OKC partners with OKC Beautiful to launch "River Protectors" initiative

OKC's waterways are in crisis. They are flooded with single-use plastics and styrofoam. River Protector volunteers are being recruited to cleanup, photograph, and document the litter through the Litterati app. According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, more than 60% of littering is deliberate and about 55% of that occurs along rural and urban highways. When it comes to parks and recreational areas, pedestrians account for greater than 76% of litter. Styrofoam and single-use plastics make up the majority of litter being found by River Protector volunteers. Oklahoma is flat and windy and because these materials are lightweight that often means they end up blowing into waterways like the Oklahoma River, Lake Overholser, and Lake Hefner. The water acts as a magnet for this lightweight litter and once blown in, it is there to stay. This means that a water bottle or foam cup littered in the middle of the city, can end up in the water miles away. Most of these materials take hundreds of years to decompose, if ever. But as they decompose in OKC’s waterways, they release toxins and microplastics that contaminate the wildlife and surrounding ecosystem.

We need your help!

River Protectors has been a collaborative effort from the beginning. Brent Allen with Riversport says, “The collective good of any community is based in collaborative problem solving. The work we are doing in partnership with OKC Beautiful is building a more sustainable city for future generations.”

Families, civic groups, coworkers, or students interested in organizing a cleanup or earning service hours through the River Protectors initiative can contact Kristen Milburn at [email protected] or (405) 525-8822. Cleanups can be conducted at the Oklahoma River, Lake Overholser, or Lake Hefner.

Instructions and supplies are set up at each of the Riversport locations at the Oklahoma River, Lake Overholser, and Lake Hefner so that volunteers may work independently. Below is all the information needed for each location. Volunteers should use the Litterati app to photograph and document the litter collected. This case study will close on September 30, so any litter collected before then will have an extra impact!

Volunteer NOW

1. The Chesapeake Boat House (Oklahoma River)
Supplies are located just in side the boathouse bay doors on the right. All volunteers must check in at the front desk of the fitness center to let our staff know you are getting supplies. Please fill coffee bean bags and zip tie closed. Leave coffee bags next to outside trash can. 

Address: 725 S. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City , OK 73129 
Hours of operation: Mon - Friday 6a to 7p, Saturday 7a to 5p, Sunday 1p to 5p

2. Lake Overholser
Flat Tide truck located in the parking area adjacent to the Lake Overholser canal entrance to the Stinchcomb wildlife refuge. Please dump trash in site trash cans if larger amount fill coffee bean bags zip tie closed and place next to site trash can.

Address: 3901 East Overholser Drive, Bethany, OK 73008 
Hours of operation: Saturday & Sunday 8a to 7p 

3. Lake Hefner 
Supplies are located at the boathouse. Please dump buckets of trash in trash cans at site, if larger amount fill coffee bean bag and zip tie closed and leave at trash can.

Address: 4407 South Lake Hefner Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 
Hours of operation: Monday - Friday 10a - 5p, Saturday 10a to 5p, Sunday noon to 5p

River Protectors in Action!

River Protectors Press Release

Riversport is launching a new collaborative initiative focused on solving the problem of litter and debris along the Oklahoma River. “The Oklahoma River is an amazing recreational gem for Oklahoma City,” said Mike Knopp, Riversport executive director. “Unfortunately, every time it rains, we are dealing with trash that gets washed down from upstream. If trash is thrown out a car window or dropped on the ground, it often ends up in a river. Every urban waterway deals with this issue, and we want to be part of the global movement to put an end to it.”

Riversport’s River Protectors initiative has two goals: remove the trash that’s already coming downstream, but long term, creating a cultural shift to eliminate trash at its source. Riversport is partnering with OKC Beautiful to complete a series of cleanup events over the next few weeks and is inviting volunteers to join the effort. Riversport Lifestyle Manager Brent Allen is leading the project. “We are looking for either individuals or groups to help pick up and catalogue the trash along the river.” The North Canadian River travels from Colorado through New Mexico into the Texas Panhandle and on to what eventually becomes the Oklahoma River. “When it rains, trash from upstream is washed down and gets trapped here along our docks,” Allen said.

“We can do temporary cleanups, but we really need to create that cultural shift that drives lasting change. As consumers, we have to get away from Styrofoam and single-use plastics or it will be like Groundhog Day – the trash will keep coming and we’ll be doing the same thing over and over.” A unique feature of Riversport’s new River Protector initiative is the idea of cataloguing the trash to define the scope and source of the problem. Using the free Litterati app, Allen and his volunteers have retrieved and catalogued over 30,000 pieces of trash over the past eight weeks. The two most common forms of trash found in the river are single-use plastics such as water and soda bottles, and Styrofoam cups, plates, and to-go containers. “The Litterati app allows us to photograph and tag trash with a GPS locator so we can work on data-driven solutions,” Allen said.

“We have to move away from these single-use items that once created, are on this planet forever,” Allen said. “In the short term, they are killing fish, birds, and sea creatures. Long term, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces with microplastics making their way into our oceans and our bodies. As Styrofoam degrades, it releases toxic chemicals. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have the convenience, but replace plastic and Styrofoam with products that are biodegradable or compostable,” Allen points out. “Today we have lots of options.”

“We need volunteers to help pick up the trash, but we also need people to ask their restaurants and retailers to offer more eco-friendly alternatives to Styrofoam and plastic,” Allen said. “We understand it’s a process. Riversport is working to get there just like everyone else. It’s a journey that begins with that first step.”