Lost and Found in the Austin Greenbelt

Friday, December 2, 2016 - 2:01pm

Guest blog by Jolyn Janis 

Lost and Found

This project began one morning on a casual hike down from the Scottish Woods Trail entrance of the Austin Greenbelt. I lifted my camera to shoot a gorgeous waterfall scenery. At the bottom of my shot was a water bottle and a crushed red canister of Pringles chips that someone had left. I raised my camera, annoyed that this trash was in the view. I had a choice in this moment: I could do as I had always done and walk away silently upset, or I could do something about it. I shifted my camera downward and started playing with photos of the scenery with the trash as the main focus in the foreground. Photographing trash left behind and carrying out what I can has become the theme of my greenbelt hikes since then.

The title “Lost and Found” carries the intention to inspire awareness for the issue of trash on the greenbelt in an accessible, friendly way. People who are attracted to the greenbelt go there to enjoy being in nature and play in the waters of the river. As I look at the faces that pass me on my way out of the trail in the morning, I see excitement and anticipation of a great day in nature. I see good intentions in everyone who visits, and yet trash is left behind.


When I taught adventure travel for teenagers and I shared Leave No Trace principles with them (pack out what you pack in), they never really thought about where their trash went. One girl asked, “Doesn’t nature just… eat it?” Although a funny statement, it’s also a profound insight into many people’s perspective. “Lost and Found” implies that what is left has to be handled by someone. This could be a ranger but more often it’s another member of the nature loving community, like me.

How could I make a difference

After a few hikes documenting trash, I reached out to see if my photos could be of benefit to organizations addressing litter on a daily basis. I donated my photography to Keep Austin Beautiful in the hopes of helping them encourage their Facebook and Twitter followers to clean up and report litter around Austin. Two of my photographs were sold in the silent auction at Beautify Bash, Keep Austin Beautiful’s celebration of its Annual Award winners and its biggest annual fundraiser.


I also donated photographs from my first two hikes to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, where they have been used in Leave No Trace campaigns to educate the community about packing out their trash when hiking the greenbelt and Austin’s natural habitats. The rangers at the parks and recreation department were thrilled with the photographs, as it matches their mission and goals in a way that they haven’t yet been able to share.

It’s a fulfilling project, to share my creativity in a way that helps people who are so passionate about what they do.

What you can do

If you are also a nature lover who is seeing the creeks and natural areas you love being trashed, you can take action! You can request supplies from Keep Austin Beautiful and organize standalone community cleanups, or you can commit to taking care of a section of creek through their Adopt-A-Creek program. Together, all our actions, no matter the size, can help create a cleaner, more beautiful Austin for everyone to enjoy.