The Oak Creek Watershed Ambassadors offer educational and volunteer experiences to engage groups and individuals in the critical work of protecting Oak Creek. Through stewardship events, educational outreach, and stream-side contact with recreators, the Ambassadors promote watershed protection through responsible recreation. They also maintain pet waste stations to reduce pollution and monitor water quality.
In 2020, we held four volunteer cleanup events. These events were impactful but small due to COVID-19 protocol. Due to COVID-19, we initiated a new volunteer program, “Oak Creek Stewards,” supporting volunteers to restore littered areas on their own while collecting important visitor use data. Through the Oak Creek Steward program and volunteer cleanups, volunteers removed over 400 pounds of trash. Oak Creek Ambassadors removed over 2,100 lbs of trash.
In 2019, we held 10 cleanup events and three stewardship hikes with 240 volunteers participating, totaling 1,080 volunteer hours. Together, we have removed 3,105 pounds of trash, including 48 diapers, from the watershed. Litter is not only an eye-sore, but it contributes to habitat and water quality degradation. To accomplish our successful large-scale cleanup events, we partnered with REI Co-Op, Dark Sky Brewery, Arizona State Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Over the course of a year, we educated more than 1,000 people over fourteen outreach events, three stewardship hikes, and ten cleanup events. We also recruited many volunteers new to our organization and worked with many groups unfamiliar with the issues our watershed and national forest face.
Ambassadors 2016, 2017, 2018
From 2016-2018 our Ambassadors were busy working with USFS along Fossil Creek each summer. This agreement between Oak Creek Watershed Council and USFS Red Rock Ranger District allowed for our Ambassadors to be present during high-use times accomplishing necessary creekside contact, outreach and education, trash removal, erosion control projects, and water quality sampling.
We found that many came unprepared to pack out their trash, and by having been present at the trailhead for the infamous “Waterfall” trail, our Ambassadors were able to educate and promote LNT ethics by handing out trash bags. Our “How Long Until It’s Gone” model provided visual aid for how long many of the things that are left behind take to decompose. Additionally, our Ambassadors had a piece of fossilized trash that the travertine rock formation had formed over a plastic bag.
Ambassadors assisted Forest Service employees with erosion control projects to mitigate that amount of sediment flowing into the creek during storm events. We also worked to install an E. coli processing lab at Red Rock Ranger District. With training from ADEQ, our Ambassadors began sampling at the popular creekside destinations to track E. coli concentration which will give crucial additional information on how recreation and storm events impact the amount of E. coli present.
While our Ambassadors enjoyed the scenic beauty of this Wild and Scenic river, they ensured to pick up trash and remove accumulated trash from dumping in the area. We find that areas that are pristine and trash free when visitors arrive, are more likely to be left that way by visitors.
It is our hope to continue with this imperative program, expanding our successful Ambassador program to the Verde Watershed-benefitting more of Arizona’s precious water.
Our Ambassadors continued hosting cleanup events regularly, attending community outreach and educational opportunities, and maintaining Pet Waste Stations along the watershed.
Since the Ambassador program began, we have kept over 26,000 lbs. of pet waste and 20,000 lbs. of trash out of the watershed. Over the years, we have been able to spread our mission to thousands of people- locals and visitors alike.
A massive haul of human “leftovers” came out of Oak Creek, once again, thanks to the Oak Creek Ambassador Program. In 2015 six dedicated young people called the Oak Creek Ambassadors removed over 4,973 lbs. of trash from recreation areas all along beloved Oak Creek.
The Ambassadors hauled out 478 lbs. of human waste from undesignated toilets and a startling total of 268 diapers. Yet, their work didn’t end at the bottom of a trash bag – they also managed to speak with over 8,200 visitors on easy methods to keep Oak Creek clean and healthy, totaling over 4,000 hours of educational stewardship.
2015 was the third season for the Ambassador Program continuing an excellent partnership between the Oak Creek Watershed Council (OCWC), Arizona Conservation Corps and the United States Forest Service (USFS). Funded through a grant with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ambassador Program exemplifies a “boots on the ground” approach to promoting water quality and stewardship throughout the watershed.
Coupled with patrols, the Ambassadors taught about the watershed with an interactive three dimensional watershed terrain model, and informed visitors about Leave No Trace practices. The Ambassadors collaborated with various agencies and organizations throughout the watershed including the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest, Friends of the Forest, Friends of 237, the Arizona National History Association, and the Verde Valley Archeological Society to name a few.
Post the Slide Fire, the 2014 Ambassadors refocused their attention to middle Oak Creek and surrounding high-use trails to mitigate litter and feces as well as monitor water quality and do fecal surveys. This year’s accumulated trash totals significantly beat out last years clean up, with 3,736 pounds of trash of which 2,041 pounds were recycled. This included 260 pounds of feces and 69 diapers. They also spoke with over 2,586 people and gave 371 hours of education.
The 2014 Ambassadors created the “How Long Till Its Gone” interactive trash model which now accompanies the terrain model during presentations and tabling’s to the public. It was handcrafted with wood burning art by Kat Solorio and Max Tapia.
To cap the season off, two Ambassadors took it upon themselves to create a 20-minute documentary titled Loved to Death: The Story of Oak Creek about the Oak Creek Ambassador program this year. The film details everything from trash cleanups, educational presentations, water sampling, fecal count monitoring, Slide Fire efforts such as Narrow-headed Gartersnake capture, sandbagging for flood and erosion control, and education on health/ safety post-fire, along with other efforts to mitigate the pollution. This documentary will be free and available for public use as an educational tool, not for commercial use.
In 2013, the Ambassadors spent the majority of their time in Oak Creek Canyon, focused mainly on high-use creekside recreational sites and campground. The accumulated totals are pretty alarming from the July 4th weekend through the end of September (about three months): Almost 2557 pounds of trash collected including 55.7 lbs. of feces and 47 diapers.
On the upside: 10,769 visitors were spoken to directly and 762 hours of education given to them regarding the watershed, and recreating responsibly. The direct contact with people in the watershed led to hundreds of hours of successful education to students, residents and visitors alike.