top of page

Potomac River Cleanup with Captain Can-It

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

I have a confession, I am obsessed with plants and nature. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a botanist. As a teen, I volunteered as a Junior Naturalist at Clearwater Nature Center. For this job I had to dig up worms and feed them to snakes. From container gardening to hiking, if it involves getting in the dirt- I am there.

So when I heard that this year’s Earth Day (Sunday April 22) called for sunny skies and perfect weather, I just knew I had to find a place to volunteer.

The Challenge

I used to volunteer alot. When I worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency, I planted trees with Casey Trees ( a Washington DC based nonprofit), removed invasive plant species from regional parks, and helped with composting during the Fringe Festival on the National Mall.

But these days, I just haven’t had the time for volunteer work.

To be honest, finding good volunteer opportunities in Washington DC for people like me is hard. You either need to:

1. sign up months in advance

2. participate in lengthy orientations, or

3. they don’t allow kids.

As a working Mom who takes their kid everywhere, I need family friendly, flexible options. After doing a quick search on Volunteer Match I came across the perfect opportunity. A Riverfront cleanup with a local nonprofit called Path to Greatness. Led by Executive Director Michelle Haywood, Path to Greatness is a Maryland based nonprofit that “that inspires volunteerism & philanthropy, using those resources to lift neighbors in need”.

For this event, Path to Greatness joined forces with the Alice Ferguson Foundation to support their “Trash Free Potomac Initiative Annual River Cleanup”.

According to the Alice Ferguson Foundation website, this event “has become a decisive catalyst for progress that ignites people’s interest and passion for the environment and community action…The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has grown from a small shoreline cleanup at Piscataway National Park to a watershed wide network.” This project has resulted in 330,000 Pounds of Trash from over 265 sites in DC, MD, VA and West Va.

Photo-op with Captain Can- It and The Main Event at Oxon Cove Park

After arriving, we were signed in by the helpful Path to Greatness staff and offered a few snacks. Once the full group of 30+ gathered, we got a brief presentation from the Park Ranger on safety-including what to do if we found medical waste. Medical waste includes unsafe items like needles which are washed into the river and end up on the park’s shoreline. Everyone was given gloves, a hand held trash grabber, and bags.

Next, we hopped on the wagon and did a brief promo commercial for Good Morning Washington with Captain Can-It, Path to Greatness’ recycling superhero spokesman. After a 5-10 min ride we were at the shoreline. Now for the hard work.

Over 330,000 lbs. of trash collected

We found all kinds of trash- kitchen table chairs, hub caps, candy wrappers, alcohol bottles, car parts, and many fast foods cups. These items are ruining our rivers, killing fish, and polluting our drinking water. After about 2 hours we had at least 15 bags of trash. This was not hard, but it does require a sturdy pair of shoes.

At this point it was time for us to go- my little one was having a tough time with the pollen and grass. Bless her heart she really hung in there!

I had a chance to talk a little with MS. Haywood and thank her for putting on this event. Overall, it was a great experience. I really love that families can be involved and work together on this project.

How Can You Get Involved?

What I like about Path to Greatness is that they do these types of events all year. Some of their events include delivering food baskets. They donate coats and put together care packages. They also teach youth about the benefits of health, exercise, and generosity. Please go to to find out about their events, donate, or signup for their upcoming Golf Tournament. The Alice Ferguson Foundation is an Accokeek MD charity that is a big supporter of environmental stewardship and often partners with local nonprofits and schools. In 2014, they received the Green Business of the Year Award from the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce.

Communities, like the one I live in, are spending millions of dollars on watershed cleanup and losing jobs and money from beach closures and lost tourism.

Next time I am drinking a glass a wine at the National Harbor, I can raise my glass a little higher knowing that I played a small role in making our community a healthier place.

I plan to sign up for next year’s event- will I see you there?

* Updated 5/17/18