Good Neighbor Awards

Salt Lake City’s Good Neighbor Cleans Up Trash-Ridden River

Written by Danielle Styskal

Each month, Nextdoor is honoring the good neighbors who are making a difference in their neighborhoods every day with our Good Neighbor Award. Each winner is nominated by their neighbors and will receive a gift card from Nextdoor in recognition of the positive impact they have made in their community.

To nominate a good neighbor in your community, click here.

More than a decade ago, Ray Wheeler was looking for a new home on the west side of Salt Lake City. He’d looked at more than 300 houses, but none of them seemed quite right.

Ray Wheeler, our Good Neighbor Award winner in Salt Lake City.

Ray Wheeler, our Good Neighbor Award winner in Salt Lake City.

One day, though, he was paddling on the Jordan River when he saw a new home under construction at the river’s edge – and it was for sale. Ray jumped at the opportunity to live on the river and purchased the new home. Surrounded by a collection of parks that comprises a big piece of open space, the home is full of windows that look out onto the river.

The river has a parkway that runs 55 miles in length that Ray used to bike to work and now turns to for exercise in his retirement. During both his bike and kayak rides, though, Ray started to realize how degraded the river was becoming. It was full of trash due to drainage from city streets and homeless encampments along on its shores.

That’s when he took it upon himself to start cleaning it up. During 1-2 hour paddle rides, Ray would pick up more trash than he could haul back home.


Ray in the middle of a trash-swamped area during one of his many kayak clean-ups.

According to Ray, “The supply of trash is more abundant than you could possibly imagine.” And, it was floating downstream and polluting the Great Salt Lake.

While he’s gone on hundreds of trash-collecting expeditions on his own, Ray knew the river’s pollution was a bigger problem than he could tackle on his own. He initiated a paddle with the Mayor’s team to show them the trash problem and was eventually able to advocate for trash receptacles along the parkway to prevent needless litter.

Now, Ray is trying to engage local residents in regular river cleanups both by foot and kayak. He has volunteered hundreds of hours to beautifying the city’s river and has literally picked up tons of trash.

Ray and a neighbor after picking up loads of garbage.

Ray and a neighbor after picking up loads of garbage.

“I do it for my own sake and the sake of my neighbors,” Ray says of the river cleanups. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who use the park and trail and pick up trash. We’ve formed an informal cooperative to keep it cleaned up.”

While it’s a big problem for one man to tackle on his own, Ray is determined to see the river return to its natural state – for the benefit of all Salt Lake City residents, and for that, we agree that he is deserving of Salt Lake City’s Nextdoor Good Neighbor Award!

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