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Erlanger Boy's Letter to EPA Leads to Creek Clean-Up

Walter Barr wasn’t sure what to do about the trash that was accumulating in and around the creek near his family’s Erlanger home, but the 10-year-old felt he had to do something.

When his mom gave him a writing assignment to write letters to two businesses or organizations (Walter is home-schooled), Walter sat down and wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I live in Northern Kentucky,” his letter stated. “I have a creek in my backyard. I am concerned about all the trash in it. I have saved a turtle trapped in a plastic bag. And I have found fish in plastic bottles.”

Walter asked the EPA what programs are dedicated to keeping waterways clean. “I am curious what I can do to help,” he wrote. “The environment is important to me,” his letter concluded.

The EPA sent him brochures and posters about water protection, and forwarded his concerns along to the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, headquartered in Louisville.

From there, the letter made its way to Nicole Clements, watershed coordinator for the Banklick Watershed Council. The creek Walter was writing about is an unnamed tributary of Bullock Pen Creek, which feeds into Banklick Creek.

Clements said Walter’s letter was a first for her. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and this is the first time I’ve heard of a child reaching out to the EPA directly about trash in a local creek,” she said. “I think it’s great, and was happy that Sanitation District No. 1 was interested in participating.”

Clements contacted SD1 Executive Director Adam Chaney, asking if the organization might be able to help in a cleanup effort. The response to Walter’s letter culminated in a cleanup program on April 22 – Earth Day – partnering SD1, the Banklick Watershed Council, Kenton County Solid Waste Management, Kenton County Parks, Kenton County Conservation District…and Walter and his sister Sofi.

“We collected a lot of road trash,” said Matt Wooten, an SD1 environmental scientist. “Lots of bottles, cups, fast food containers.”

On Monday the team of 15 volunteers pulled 39 garbage bags of trash and six bags of recycling out of the creek. The most common item: plastic bags. The team also found a tire, some metal and a plastic picnic bench.

Wooten said what they found in the creek isn’t abnormal, unfortunately. “It’s hard to believe people are still throwing this stuff out the window, but they obviously are,” he said.

Clements said the science of road trash is pretty simple. “Whatever is on the roadsides will end up in the creeks,” she said. The garbage cleaned up on Monday would have eventually made its way to Doe Run Lake, she added.

“We’re always upstream from somebody and downstream from somebody,” Clements said. “It’s important to keep our local waterways clean to protect local habitats and wildlife, and so that our local resources are available to use and appreciate.”

Clements said she was very grateful to all of the partners who pitched in.

“The SD1 crew is exceptionally thoughtful and caring not just about the environment, but also for the kids who ended up joining their part of the crew,” she said. “They were so good with the kids and I think it really made a great impact and impression.”

Wooten admitted that it can be discouraging seeing so much trash in our local streams. “But then I think about Walter Barr,” he said, “and all of the other Walter Barrs out there, and I am optimistic for the future. One person can make a difference – this cleanup project is living proof of that.”

Clements said she hopes Walter’s story will inspire others to get involved in cleaning up local waterways, and said that anyone interested in doing so can contact her through the Banklick Creek Watershed website at

From Sanitation District 1

Photo provided