ohio river group photo

Ohio River Clean Up

One of our favorite Smartwool benefits is 40 hours of paid community service time annually for employees. The hours can be achieved individually or as a group of Smartwooligans out to do good. As a bonus, employees who reach 40 hours of community involvement get the chance to apply for special community projects.

One of these projects is in partnership with In Good Company and Living Lands & Waters to help clean up the Ohio River.

ohio river garbage

Why the Ohio River? It is one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S.

It touches on six states, transports over 260 million tons of cargo (think coal, grain, and petroleum) each year, and serves as the drinking water source for more than 5 million people. Whatever floats down the Ohio—refrigerators, tires, 55-gallon drums, barge line, plastic toys, and plastic bottles—finds its way into the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico  affecting fish and marine animals and their ecosystems all along the way.

Four Smartwool staffers were chosen to participate over the past two years. Jon Pilling - Business Operations Analyst; Kelly Thurston - Supply Chain Analyst; Summer Muir - D2C Inventory Manager; and Abbie Solberg - Master Data Analyst. 

ohio river clean up

When asked to sum up their week in just a few words, they all shared similar words and thoughts. Eye-opening, fulfilling, and an all-around good time were themes of each week on the Ohio River. Summer tells us, “The experience was eye-opening, in the respect of how much “stuff” people throw away that could be repurposed and reused. And that expanded polyurethane should be forever banned… It’s also amazing how positive the founders and workers for Living Lands & Waters are all the time, even though they see so much waste on a daily basis. They are outside on the river that they love, taking care of it and they completely appreciate all the volunteers that come to help.” 

From setting an example for a daughter to wanting to make a personal impact, all staffers jumped at the opportunity to be involved and their reasons for participating started with their core values.

Kelly says “I knew plastic was a problem, but I also knew that there was more I could do about it. I wanted an experience that would make me more self-aware of what we are doing to our planet, so that I could personally make an impact and bring that back to my local community.” For Summer, her passion for river clean-ups started locally. “After participating in a couple of river clean-ups on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with Smartwool, where the majority of the people in town respect the rivers and the outdoors, I was intrigued to learn about Living Lands & Waters.” It’s also about setting an example for her daughter. “I have always been anti-litter and have taught my daughter, that if she sees trash on the street, to make sure she picks it up.” 

ohio river

When asked what they wanted people to know about the Ohio River, Abbie told us, “The Ohio River is the most polluted river in the US. Doing what we can to clean up the rivers, and that river specifically, will ultimately affect what ends up in our oceans. One of the biggest parts of the program is the visibility this cause is giving the local residents to the issue.”

Jon’s passion for giving back started at an early age, “Growing up I was always taught that It was Important to give back. Whether that is giving back in your Immediate community or in areas that badly need the assistance. I also grew up near water so taking care of it is very important to who I am as a person and that’s why I want people to know that beauty is everywhere and you really can make a difference.

“I never could have imagined what exactly we would find in the river.” says Kelly. The following were certainly the most random:

    • 1950’s glass cola bottles

    • Mailboxes

    • Brand new and full size picnic table (the picnic table now “lives” at the housing site for the volunteers)

    • Refrigerators

    • Bowling balls

    • Hot tub

    • Message in a bottle

message in a bottle

Upon their return from the project, each staffer felt a shift in their own perspectives and were looking forward to making a change in their day-to-day lives. For Abbie, she knows she will definitely carry this experience forward. “You can make a difference. Seeing the volume of what 20 of us could do in a week and the kind of stuff that ends up in our waterways opened my eyes to what we are all capable of. It all started from the passion of one person, and now over 10 million pounds of trash has been removed from our waterways and over 1.3 million trees have been planted.    

"You just have to decide you want to make a difference."
- Abbie Solberg


To find out how you can get involved and learn more, visit Living Land & Water.


recycled art

Recycled Artwork from Living Lands & Waters.