Celebrate consciously – Ana Karen Sánchez

During my park internship, I have had the opportunity to rove through the park itself and check on our various park groves and guests. Some of the most common questions asked by guests are usually regarding bathrooms or trail directions. These roves are necessary to ensure that everyone and everything is in safe standing and abiding by our park regulations. Please remember that these regulations should not be interpreted as harsh rules meant to detract from the parks enjoyment but instead to protect guests and the park.

Popped and abandoned balloon scraps leading directly into the Rock Creek.

When I first started to rove and saw how many people didn’t know or simply chose to ignore the regulations, I was internally quite upset. Upset, because I knew the lasting impacts that some of these actions can have on our beautiful local park and the ecosystem. The most common offenders consist of guests hosting different celebrations in the park picnic areas. With celebrations that range from birthday parties, bridal showers, and graduations; balloons and trash become a big problem! Admittingly, it can be difficult at times to confront an offending party because it is supposed to be a happy occasion. Yet, as stated before, most people are unaware that they are acting against park regulations. These moments then become opportunities to engage with guests as well as educate them on WHY such regulations exists. Most individuals are very understanding. For example, they will simply pop and appropriately dispose of their balloons, but we also encourage them to store the balloons in their cars to be distributed later, off-site. Balloons and trash are a threat to animals and the environment in that they can contaminate the rich ecosystem and can also be ingested by many living organisms.

This is our “Balloon Box” filled with just 5 hours worth of balloon scraps! Usually displayed during our Summer in the Parks event.
Back view of the “Balloon Box”

We also find that balloons are often attached to balloon ribbons that are then attached to trees or existing park structures. Which brings me to the next big NO-NO! According to the Rock Creek Park, Rules and Regulations, “Do not attach ribbons, posters, balloons, or directional signs to any park object, either natural or man‐made. Balloons are prohibited in Rock Creek Park“. This regulation goes hand in hand with the “Hug a Tree, Don’t Hurt a Tree” initiative which discourages the use of hammocks, rope swings, and slacklines and falls under the III. General Regulation 36 CFR §2.1 – PRESERVATION OF NATURAL, CULTURAL AND ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES, “Recreational activities that damage or harm natural, cultural, or archeological resources are prohibited.” Although these recreational activities and colorful bunches of balloons may seem appealing, they have a huge negative impact especially considering that we have millions of park visitors every year. One small action quickly accumulates into a plethora of negative impressions.

Feeling accomplished after a 2 hour balloon and confetti clean up session!

Now, although it is still disappointing to see trash or other acts that can negatively impact the park, I will admit that I no longer feel as upset as before. Not because I don’t care but because I know I am doing my part by connecting and educating park guests to avoid future repetitions. I have also spent many hours collecting balloon scraps and trash along with posting up informative signs. This is a painstaking job that gives me a sense of satisfaction in the end because I know that I have not only made the park look more appealing but have potentially saved a living organism somewhere down the line. My advice when confronting what may seem like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, is to start with the world around you. Think about how you can get involved in conservation and protection in your local area and don’t be afraid to get your friends and family involved. We are all responsible for the care of our shared environment!

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