Kevin Callan never imagined that one woman's love of canoeing in pristine Ontario wilderness areas would create a global movement to clean up and rediscover "lost" canoe routes.

Callan, a well-known Canadian canoeist and author of 12 canoeing and camping guidebooks, is organizing the fifth annual Great Wilderness Clean-up this weekend. The grassroots event started in 2006 when Nancy Maddock and friends collected over 100 bags of garbage on Mother's Day weekend on popular canoe routes in Algonquin Provincial Park, a heavily used canoe-tripping area north of Toronto. Word spread through the canoeing community on web forums and Callan got involved and implored other paddlers to clean up their favorite canoe areas. Last year, Callan says the two-day event had more support in England, Scotland and Brazil than in Canada; it also mobilized a number of canoe route clean-up efforts in the United States.

"It was the Internet that created the most interest," says Callan. "Nancy created this monster, the idea spread on talk forums and all of a sudden people in the U.K. and South America were getting involved. It goes to show you that around the world, wilderness lovers have the same concerns."

The framework for the clean-up weekend is barebones. "The simple rule is go out wherever you love to go outside, clean up the garbage, tally what you've collected and tell us what you did on our website," says Callan. While chapter organizations have been created in Brazil, the U.K. and Kentucky, teams of volunteers can act independently. Callan says prizes will be awarded to the teams for quantity of garbage (and recyclables) collected.

Although the Great Wilderness Clean-up got started within the protected boundaries of Algonquin Park, Callan says it plays a more critical role in documenting the thousands of lesser-known canoe routes that are scattered across public land in North America. "The real story is that canoeists need to get organized and maintain the routes that are located outside of parks," he says, "because otherwise they will be forgotten and lost forever."
— Conor Mihell

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