A waste management program that engages cleanup by attracting visitors to beautiful landscapes. See how the Trash Tracker program at Lake Powell removes waste and enhances experiences for all visitors.

It’s as close to perfect as you might imagine. Clean, crystalline water expanding for miles; hidden inlets and beaches; an oasis in the desert, connecting Utah and Arizona. Even when facing strong gusts of wind or record-breaking heat, you still feel at peace on Lake Powell’s glassy waters.

It’s hard to imagine there was once a time when parts of this paradise were unable to be enjoyed.

When you look at Lake Powell now, it’s the kind of scene you see on a post card, unspoiled and inviting. But years ago, certain areas within the park used to close due to excessive waste buildup.

In the parts of the park where we operate the lodging, restaurants and gifts shops, we’ve been able to establish effective waste management programs. Out on the water, on the other hand, it’s much harder to predict where waste might accumulate as people have the freedom to roam to whatever beaches or coves they choose. 

Working hand-in-hand with the National Park Service (NPS), we wanted to find a solution that addressed the existing waste issue, while still being efficient for our partner.

Inspired by this challenge, one of our employees approached the National Park Service with an idea. He proposed a volunteer-based program to reduce waste and enhance the experience for visitors: the Lake Powell Trash Tracker boat.

The Lake Powell Trash Tracker program would rely on volunteers to help pick up abandoned waste throughout the park. We would help run the program—providing one of our houseboats, a captain and a crew to the National Park Service every year—while the NPS would recruit eager individuals dedicated to helping keep the over 1900 miles of shoreline as clean as possible.

Needless to say, the National Park Service jumped on board and we worked together to put the idea into action.

“The Trash Tracker program is unlike anything else we offer and has delivered consistently for over 27 years.”

- Betsy Scroggs, National Park Service

Here’s a breakdown of how the program works:

Every week, a new crop of four volunteers patrols the beaches for 5-7 days picking up, and transporting debris and waste. The expert crew carefully plans each weeklong trip and leads the daily excursions along the different beaches.

During the day, they pick up trash for 6-7 hours, with frequent breaks. This is when visitors take the opportunity to cool off or take in the expansive surroundings. But even when they are working, visitors relish the unique opportunity to see many different areas within the park while actively take part in their restoration.

And when off-duty, they get to anchor along the beach and enjoy all the benefits of being secluded away in this red rock wonderland. In lieu of sleeping inside, volunteers have been known to sleep on the upper deck of the boat and spend the night underneath the stars.

Each year, the program patrols over 1,000 miles of shoreline is patrolled and collects over 50,000 pounds of trash, most of which is recyclable material.

Volunteers are often repeat visitors—friends who enjoy the altruistic nature of the program—and cherish the opportunity to meet and work alongside like-minded people, who care about the environment, the parks and the people in them.

The Trash Tracker program helps foster a feeling of camaraderie amongst volunteers as well as a greater connection to the park, having worked together to help take care of it.

See what our volunteers are saying:

“We are making a positive difference, in that we are making the environment a better place for future generations” –17-time volunteer

“We had the BEST experience on Lake Powell and it was in large part due to the crew.” –First-time volunteer

Nowadays, more and more people are excited to participate in volunteer-based travel. So while spending five days picking up trash might not describe the typical vacation, the program has seen great turnout. In fact, all 25 weeks the Trash Tracker program is offered often books up within the first day slots are made available.

This program has certainly seen its share of successes: the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for volunteers, the over 25-year collaborative effort between Aramark and the National Park Service, the improved experience for the visitors. But perhaps none more so than its original intent: preserving the beauty of nature.

Thanks in part to this program, Lake Powell has gained a national reputation for being one of the cleanest lakes in the country. It’s a reputation that has helped attract the millions of visitors who come to its colorful shores each year.

Lake Powell Trash Tracker