Once a year, nature lovers come together in an effort to rid our beaches and waterways of trash. Across the nation, plastic bags, wrappers, cans and bottles, cigarette butts, etc. — literally millions of pounds of trash — are picked up in just a few short hours.

According to the California Coastal Commission, these cleanup days began in the Pacific Northwest and have been around for decades, eventually gaining traction nationwide and even worldwide. Today their impact is undeniable: last year alone, the cleanup effort just in California saw more than 65,000 volunteers working together to collect an estimated 1,142,997 pounds of trash!

This Sept. 17 we’re doing it again, with Sonoma County’s efforts overseen by the California Coastal Trail Association, which in turn has delegated cleanup efforts to various local groups. In the case of Sonoma Valley, who better to organize cleanup efforts than your Sonoma Ecology Center?

That’s why we’re asking able-bodied Sonoma Valley residents of all ages to join us on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 9 a.m. to noon, as we clean up several inland streams and creeks up and down the Valley. Why not get in on the state’s largest volunteer event?

Sonoma Ecology Center will have four meeting sites for the Coastal Cleanup this year: Maxwell Farms Regional Park (100 Verano Ave., Sonoma) by the softball fields, Larsen Regional Park (329 Dechene Ave., Sonoma), Fryer Creek with the check-in location at the southeast area of the Safeway parking lot, and Nathanson Creek Demonstration Garden at the corner of East MacArthur St. and 2nd St. East.

For further information on the Valley cleanup efforts — including how to register and where to meet — contact Patrick Willis, restoration technician for the Sonoma Ecology Center, at 707-996-0712 ext. 126 or patrick@sonomaecologycenter.org. Volunteers will receive an email before the event with information on where their project site will be. Drop-ins are also welcome.

Please come to prepared with a hat, sunscreen, closed-toed shoes and a water bottle. Please also bring buckets and gloves if you have them, along with any plastic bags you can spare for picking up trash.

It’s only fitting that Valley residents should come together on Coastal Cleanup Day to clear out our own inland waterways. Inevitably, the trash we leave there makes its way downstream — to the San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Pacific Ocean. And when that happens, our beaches look like this: