Scouts clean a national park’s sticky situation

Next time you’re strolling down a well-traveled sidewalk, study the ground. You might find small black splotches caked onto the pavement.

Volunteers at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego found 997 such spots. It was all chewing gum — casually discarded over the years and stuck to the mile’s worth of concrete and brick walkways around the park.

“It’s so ugly; it’s an eyesore,” says Debbie Sherman, park ranger at Cabrillo National Monument. “Gum on the ground is like graffiti, the more people see it, the more people will do it.”

Cabrillo National Monument saw more than 1 million visitors last year; it’s the site that commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer who led the first European voyage up the western U.S. coast in 1542.

On Sept. 30, it was also where 90 Cub, Boy and Girl Scouts met for “Operation Gum Drop Removal.” Armed with metal spoons and eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner, the Scouts sprayed and scraped the unsightly blobs, meticulously peeling the gummy mess off the sidewalks. They removed about half of the gum that day.

“They wanted to come back,” Sherman says. “They were all smiles; it was great.”

The clean-up effort was part of National Public Lands Day, an annual volunteer day for public lands. Scouts who helped could also work on earning a patch through the National Park Service’s Scout Ranger program. Scouts receive a badge by participating in educational programs or volunteering 10 service hours at a national park. Troops can earn a certificate for group involvement.

Helping the parks

Sherman advised Scouts who want to earn the patch or simply serve a national park to first find a park, historical site or monument. The National Park Service has more than 410 sites with at least one in every state and territory.

Second, Scouts should contact the park’s main office and talk to a ranger or volunteer program manager, so they can plan their project with them. Don’t start on a project without getting permission. The next National Public Lands Day will be Sept. 29, 2018, but Scouts can plan a project anytime.

Finally, work on the project and have fun. The National Park Service provides a worksheet to help Scouts keep track of their progress.

Some parks offer specific Scouting and Ranger programs tailored to that individual park. Here’s a list of those parks.

Most national parks are open year-round, and remember, you can get an admission pass for fourth-grade Cub Scouts to get into the parks for free.


  1. Both of my sons and I participated that day. My older son (boy scout) is in the blue beside the woman in black-white dress and my younger son (Webelos) is sitting beside him. We had a lot of fun at this event and learned a lot as well. Very fun time spent outside with a lot of scouts and enjoying the day.

  2. Isn’t it pathetic that we need to provide this kind of service? I wonder how many of those unsightly blobs were within a few feet of a trash receptacle. Continuing this thread, how many Scouting units are involved with Adopt a Highway? Again, it’s really pathetic that volunteers need to step up to clean up after the slobs who inhabit America.

    My city conducts a cleanup week in the spring. People and groups going around to parks, churches, schools to pick up the detritus of our society.

    I applaud all the volunteers that provide this type of service.

    • Worse: the number of wildfires that get traced back to man-made causes.
      No matter how you look at it, the lack of engagement in scouting and other outdoor education leads to poor outdoor manners from our fellow citizens.

  3. All the Scouts who participated in this project should be proud of themselves. I applaud them for tackling this often overlooked littering habit that society needs to deal with. Spitting, as well. I have seen people in Washington, D.C., spit on the sidewalk. Disgusting!

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