Stroke Your Eco, Paddle for the Planet is an initiative to get people out into waterways and clean them up, one paddle stroke and one piece of plastic at a time. Kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and anyone with a water-going vessel are welcome to join this group of intrepid water lovers as they turn lakes, stream, and river cleanups into a good time. Read on to learn more about Stroke Your Eco and about how to get involved in a cleanup event.
The Founder’s Tale
Stroke Your Eco founder Lynn Brotherston has long been an avid kayaker and paddleboarder. She loves to relax and sit with nature in Assunpink Lake in Monmouth County. Second up for her might be Forge Pond in Brick Township.” Once you get away from the noise of the Route 70 traffic, it really is such a beautiful place,” she says.
When she goes out on the water, she often ends up wrestling with storm-downed trees and overly built-up beaver dams to make her way across the water. Maneuvering human-left debris is more frustrating and often truly sad.
During the COVID, lockdown, Lynn, like so many of us, found her attention directed towards projects she hadn’t had time to fully consider in busy years prior. I she decided to address the chagrin she felt when going out for a paddle, seeking pleasure, she would instead, see garbage everywhere. She decided to do something about all that pollution and formed a plan to help others get involved.
Lynn’s ability to make good on her plan to clean up local New Jersey waterways was due in part to the generosity of her late grandmother, Jean O’Connor. Lynn’s grandmother set a great example for giving back to the communities in which she lived. When Jean passed, Lynn felt motivated by her grandmother’s example to put her inheritance toward a project that would extend her beautiful legacy.
Lynn announced the first Stroke Your Eco clean-up event on Meetup and Facebook. Lo and behold, “a world that I never knew existed reached back out. It was really beautiful the way everything just aligned.” That first outing took place at Deal Lake in Asbury Park, a body of water Lynn holds especially close to her heart. The group will head out on October 21st, 2023 with Don Brockel, the Deal Lake Commission Chair.
How It Works
Stroke Your Eco does not currently have its own fleet of kayaks, although that is a goal for the program. Lynn owns three herself and happily lends those to participants who attend cleanups. For the most part, volunteers who join up with the group have their own vessels — so come prepared.
Organizers prefer cleanup participants to be experienced kayakers, canoeists, and or paddle boarders. Lynn worries that “There’s a lot of bending over to the sides to grab garbage and it’s not easy for someone just starting out.” For those who wish to get involved but don’t think their skills are quite up to the task, she recommends ACA (American Canoe Association l) certified instructor Kevin Burkitt for lessons. Kevin’s own Coastal Monmouth and Ocean County organization, Paddle for Hunger, works in close partnership with Stroke Your Eco.
Lynn now shares the organizational duties with Donna Webber. Lynn sets the dates and locations of the cleanups and lists those events on social media. Donna reaches out to other organizations, such as the New Jersey governmental Clean Communities program, to get involved. The Clean Communities program provides the tremendous service of picking up all the debris — furniture, countless tires, bikes, clothes, baby dolls, and other weird garbage — that the paddlers collect while out on the water.
The paddlers do not go out into the water throughout the winter months, due to safety concerns that come with low temperatures. When not on the water, however, they do beach cleanups, typically held about once a month. Invariably, the volunteers show up. Lynn says, “They inspire me to keep going. Everyone takes pics to showcase each other and their finds and we tend to laugh or cry depending on the situation. It’s a great group made up of really special people from all walks of life. It’s pretty cool!”
Sweet Eco Success
Stroke Your Eco is now in its third season. In that time, the organization has held 70 cleanups throughout Ocean and Monmouth Counties, accumulating a total of over 35,000 lbs of trash. Organizers are getting set to grow the program even more for Spring 2024, seeking more volunteers to gain traction with particular waterways. The goal is to move faster and more efficiently so that aquaculture has a better chance of survival.
Along with Deal Lake in Asbury, the group has addressed debris in Navesink, Shark River, Forge Pond, Lake Shenandoah, Lake Carasljo, Shrewsbury River, the Wranglebrook section of the Toms River, the Metedeconk River, Assunpink, Perreinville Lake, Glimmer Glass Lake, Deerhead Lake, Shadow Lake, and the list goes on. Several of these have been cleaned numerous times in one season due to the abundance of trash.
Coastal Care Connections
Lynn hopes that some of the group’s expansion can be facilitated in direct, old-fashioned ways — like placing fliers around colleges and in community hubs. She has made good connections within the larger recreational kayaking and paddling communities all around New Jersey. She and Donna are also working to get regional townships more heavily involved. They have plans to reach out to scouting groups and sports teams to see if they are interested in participating, as well.
Stroke Your Eco has occasionally combined forces with Jenna Reynolds, the founder of Save Coastal Wildlife, and will get the groups together for a cleanup at the Navesink on October 22nd, 2023. Stroke Your Eco and Save Coastal Wildlife teams have worked together on Sandy Hook and plan to continue their collaborations in the future. Lynn and Donna have also worked with the Hackensack River Keepers and the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. Lynn prizes these relationships “Those guys are just awesome and in fact, some of their volunteers come down when able to help Stroke your Eco.”
Many of the New Jersey organizations Lynn looks to for advice and support are a good distance away. She remembers thinking she was the only one with her grand idea when it first came to her, “After gaining some traction through a Facebook paddling group, all of a sudden people started to reach out to me from other organizations with the same concept throughout New Jersey and beyond. I was blown away at what a tight community was out there all with the same mission in mind. I have met so many great people that I wish lived closer so that we could all go clean up waterways together more frequently.”
A Cleaner Future
On October 21st, 2023, Stroke Your Eco participants will set out on Deal Lake, launching out of the Allentown train station at 10AM. On October 22nd, they will embark on the Navesink River cleanup with Save Coastal Wildlife, launching out of 9 Avenue of Two Rivers, Rumson at 10AM.
Lynn knows that Stroke Your Eco is saving wildlife. The more tragic finds she and her crew have discovered were turtles and other animals that couldn’t make it out of the plastic trash surrounding them. Her goal is to grow this program and spark the fire to get involved in others so that the cleanup happens in time to spare the wildlife affected by what people leave behind.
The areas that are hit the hardest with litter and general water pollution are typically nearest the cities, such as Lakewood and Asbury Park. Lynn notes that some cities in other counties don’t have this problem, so it isn’t a necessary outcome of proximity to people. “I believe it comes down to a few minute things. I believe we need more trash receptacles placed throughout our towns, larger fines for littering, more signage declaring those fines, and better recycling programs.”