MODESTO, Calif. — To say David Down has picked up a ton of trash is a literal understatement. In the past year, Down and his crew have been getting their hands dirty by sweeping 9,240 pounds of trash off of city streets and parks.
“The biggest one was the engine block," Down said. "That was pretty interesting to see someone just leave an engine in the middle of a trail.”
Down set an ambitious 10,000-pound goal for his cleanup campaign early in the year. He picked up thousands of pounds of trash along the San Joaquin River at least three times, hundreds at Knights Ferry, and another 1,300 pounds at Dry Creek Regional Park. His biggest haul was 2,840 pounds of trash at Mancini Park along the Tuolumne River.
He was primed to smash past his goal on Dec. 10, but due to surging coronavirus cases, the final cleanup of the year was canceled for safety reasons.
Formerly known as RoamLost, the group now called Elevated and Lost are a group of family and friends trying to keep trash off the land and the environment protected for future generations.
One member of that future generation he has in mind is his young son. Down didn't want his son to grow up and deal with the same realities that he is dealing with now.
“We understand that trash is getting left behind everywhere… everywhere we go the oceans, parks, rivers. It’s just a huge crisis that we’re seeing and we just wanted to dive into it,” he said.
Due to the coronavirus, they kept the campaigns small as they swept through parks and city streets. The cleanup campaigns were colorful, to say the least.
"I found couches up in trees,” Down said.
The wayward couches were lodged about five feet up in a tree along the San Joaquin River. He said the crew found everything from diapers and hygiene products to needles and an engine block.
“Just all kinds of nasty stuff," Down said. "It’s really hard to pinpoint because you see some of the nastiest things I’ve ever really seen and been around and put my hands on.”
While the coronavirus kept him from achieving his year-end goal, Down is still grateful for the team he's had by his side and for the support he's garnered in the community.
That being said, he isn't done just yet.
“As long as I can keep footing the bill for a cleanup, we’re going to be doing it,” Down said.
He's already setting plans for future cleanups along Highway 1, Highway 395, and Joshua Tree in 2021 once it's safe to do so again.