I am a sucker for all outdoors-inspired gear. Especially since I ditched the swamp for the desert, I’ve grown to love anything Southwest-themed. If there’s a saguaro or a mountain on it, I’m instantly drawn to it.

One company I discovered late last year is Keep It Wild Co. — a husband and wife team who create Southwest-inspired goods for a greater good. From national parks tees to beautiful stickers to hats and patches and pins, you’re bound to find something that tugs at your inner adventurer’s heartstrings.

What really sets them apart from other apparel brands is that they are deeply rooted in the community and actually get out and do good. They don’t just write checks to non-profits; they actually provide opportunities to maintain and preserve our wild places.

I love that philosophy, so I started buying their products. At the same time, I also began researching a little more about the company and what they stand for… and that’s when I stumbled upon the Wild Keepers Program.

In a nutshell, Wild Keepers are brand ambassadors who participate in the company’s “Impact Days” — 3 to 4 days during each term where they are encouraged to clean-up litter in their hometown and collectively flood Instagram with photos to demonstrate their impact. Inspirational, right?

In exchange, Wild Keepers are rewarded with some discount codes and opportunities to be featured on Keep It Wild’s Instagram account (which, as of the publish date of this blog post, is 122,000+ followers strong).

This is exactly the sort of cause I like to stand behind. So, I applied to the program and — much to my delight — was accepted as a Spring 2018 Wild Keeper! (My partner, Noah, also applied and was accepted. We like to make things a family affair.)

We were immediately placed into a mentor group that comprised of other Wild Keepers (new and old) who, coincidentally, all lived in Tucson. I speculate that this was done intentionally to encourage participants to meet up and pick-up litter together. We used the mobile app Telegram to communicate and began to plan our first Impact Day, scheduled for February 19.

We learned that it was incredibly challenging to coordinate schedules among 11 different people… so while some Wild Keepers split up into smaller teams to coordinate group clean-ups, Noah and I opted to take the whole family out and do our own thing.

On this particular Sunday, storm clouds began rolling in and the sky looked foreboding. It was already 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and staying on top of our evening routine — dinner, bath time, then bed — was a priority for us. Rather than trying to venture out to a trailhead on the outskirts of Tucson, we decided to focus our efforts on an urban area that we knew could use a lot of love: the Rillito River wash.

The Rillito River meanders from east to west across the northern boundary of the City of Tucson. Water once flowed perennially and supported substantial growth of cottonwoods, willows, and mesquites. However, growing urban populations eventually transformed the Rillito from a river to a dry wash with stabilized banks. Today, water only flows occasionally in response to storm runoff.

With the creation of “The Loop” —  131 miles of paved trails dedicated to cyclist, pedestrian, and equestrian use, some of which border the Rillito River — this area is highly trafficked. As you walk along the river path, you only need to gaze down into the dry wash bed below to see cans, bottles, and trash scattered everywhere.

Because we live less than a half-mile from The Loop, we knew that this is where our passion could be best put to purpose.

After only 15 minutes, we had completely filled up 2 bags of trash… but looking around us, it was like we had barely made a dent in the amount of litter in the river bed.

It was certainly an enlightening moment. The need was clearly much greater than we had realized. A fire had been lit inside each of us: had we brought more bags, we could have made a bigger impact. Had we brought friends and family members with us, we could have covered more mileage. Had we started doing this weeks — even months — prior, maybe this river bed wouldn’t be in such poor condition right now.

More importantly, this was a powerful learning opportunity for our kiddos. By opting to pick-up trash instead of watching Power Rangers indoors, we are (hopefully) laying the foundation for these little ones to become future environmentalists who care deeply and passionately about making this world a better — and cleaner — place.

The next Impact Day is in just a few short weeks. More than ever, we believe that nature was meant to be wild, and it is up to us to keep it that way.