Brandon Butler outdoors Jan. 24

Taking part in a community cleanup is a great way to spend time outdoors during winter, while meeting new people who share your dedication to living litter free.

Organized cleanups usually are easy to find, but if you can’t find any planned cleanups in your area, then take it upon yourself to organize one. Maybe that’s you and one friend, or maybe it’s dozens of people.

Either way, the rewards of a cleaner environment and personal fulfillment are priceless.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of cleaning up America may not have had anything to do with literally picking up trash, but I feel King would have been proud of the dozens of citizens who banned together in a small riverside community to pick up litter on the day set aside each year to honor his memory and his vision of a better world.

I was proud to take part with my family and enjoyed providing my young daughters a hands-on experience about the importance of service for the betterment of others.

Armed with empty mesh trash bags, my wife, daughters and I stomped off into the wilds of a riverside conservation area. It didn’t take long to begin finding trash along the levee. Every few feet, we’d spot a plastic bottle or empty can.

My young daughters established a competition with each other as they strained their eyes for the next piece of litter. Once spotted, they’d race to pick it up.

What they never realized was that no matter who picked up the piece of litter, their mother and I were the real winners. We joyfully watched as our daughters learned a lesson on value of service.

As we made our way along the river, we picked up hundreds of plastic bottles and other shards of trash, many of which will now be recycled. We found two tires and one large fuel tank that must have come off a tractor decades ago. A dried-out slough we came upon was so full of trash that it honestly looked like part of a garbage dump. When the river was up earlier in the year, the slough must have been an eddy. As the water receded, load and loads of trash was caught in the timber.

We filled our bags to capacity but then had to turn away and head back to the cleanup headquarters over a mile away. I had a bag over each shoulder, and the girls dragged theirs, since they were too heavy to carry. We passed so much trash that couldn’t fit into our already bulging bags. All we could do was direct others to the spot we discovered and hope collectively our efforts would remove all the litter.

The whole idea of a group cleanup is to function as a community. For this specific event, there was a 9 a.m. kickoff with cinnamon rolls and coffee, followed by a potluck lunch at noon. A few local restaurants prepared and donated the food. The businesses benefit by having a cleaner community in which to live and work.

Seeing all the folks who left the kickoff in clean clothes return covered in mud, laughing and full of joy was a reward all its own.

Day in and day out we hear about all the ills and evils of the world we live in. Yet good exists around every corner. It’s evident in the smiling faces of children cleaning up a riverbank.

See you down the trail.