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Kern Valley residents resurrect Keepers of the Kern to help keep river clean

Keepers of the Kern was founded in 2013 to help the U.S Forest Service help clean the river. After the group dissolved around 2020, several residents decided to bring it back to life
Posted at 12:24 PM, Jul 09, 2024

KERN RIVER VALLEY, Calif. (KERO) — Keepers of the Kern is a community organization that goes to campgrounds near the river and picks up trash – the organization was started in 2013 but dissolved around covid- but it has recently been resurrected by members both old and new.

  • Keepers of the Kern organize river clean-ups where residents pick up trash on campgrounds near the Kern River.
  • 23ABC joined Keepers of the Kern volunteers on a clean-up on July 6, where volunteers were pleasantly surprised by the relatively light amount of trash left my campers.


While most of the KRV is still waking up, the Keepers of the Kern – adorned in tie-dye shirts and armed with trash pickers - descend onto local campgrounds.

“It’s all about the river. The river feeds us all,” said Barbara Hinkey, who initially founded the organization with her brother Rex.

Back in 2013, Barbara Hinkey and her brother visited the Upper Kern as part of a local clean up effort.

“And what we found was horrible. So we went home and three hours later, Keepers of the Kern was started.”

The group was initially a non-profit 5013c and in addition to trash pick-ups they helped raise money to put dumpsters at campgrounds.

However, a few years ago the group dissolved after a loss of volunteers.

“Their passion for this river is off the chart,” said Kitt Heilbron.

Heilbron tells me she was inspired by Barbara and Rex so she, along with Amy Nelson, decided to resurrect the group and start organizing trash pick-ups again.

“Kitt and Amy got a hold of us and said hey, we want to do Keepers. So we have next generation Keepers.”

“I say this is our office. So even though it can be a bit of a heartbreak to see what has been left from our campers, the fact is, just look up and look out,” Heilbron said.

The group brings walkie talkies to coordinate because some of the areas they cover are without cell service. And they receive help from young volunteers with help from young volunteers –

“We call her bottlecap Addy,” said Heilbron.

And four legged ones.

I went out with them the Monday after the Fourth of July weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for the campgrounds – meaning lots of trash. But this year volunteers were surprised.

“It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, so we are all hoping that it’s because the public is becoming more aware and more educated,” said Heilbron.

“The amount of trash that we took out today was probably a third of what we normally get,” Hinkey said.

This year, Keepers of the Kern, the U.S Forest Service and the Kern River Conservancy coordinated their clean-ups efforts to cover as much of the river as possible

“We have a motto, one person can make a difference, but together we can make it right.”

And though they were still picking up large items like tents and broken chairs that campers simply left behind -

“How about a tent?” Hinkey asked, lifting up a tent left behind by campers.

Volunteers are hopeful this points towards a trend of visitors becoming more aware of their impact.

“So during the summer we are going to be Mondays and Tuesdays, we meet at Headquarters campground just past Riverkern. On the second and fourth Friday of every month we meet at Keysville South.”

Hinkey says that she hopes to see the trend of campers leaving less trash continue.

“It’s kind of a dream come true, because I think the goal is that Keepers of the Kern wouldn’t have to come out.”

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