Julie Sondecker

People + Parks: Keeping Austin Clean, One Day at a Time

People + Parks
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By Elizabeth McGuire

For the last 337 days, Austin’s green spaces have been cleaner than ever before. That’s because Julie Sondecker, creator of Instagram’s @365DaysofHiking, has been picking up trash in parks and on trails every single day since May 30, 2017. During her daily outings, she fills her signature blue mesh bag, artfully arranges the trash in a beautiful spot, takes a photo, then shares it online.

“Part of my plan was always to highlight what doesn’t belong here,” Sondecker said. “I wanted the images to look Instagram-worthy, but by juxtaposing something really gross in front of something really pretty—it hammers my point home even more.”

Sondecker was especially eager for this spring’s wildflower season to begin because she knew the photos would hit Texans right in the heart. “Texans are proud of their bluebonnets,” she said. “And to put a big pile of trash in the middle of it…that definitely highlights the problem. It makes people think, ‘Is this where you want to take family photos? Is this what you’re proud of?”

A native Texan herself, Sondecker grew up in Mansfield and moved to Austin in 2009 to attend the University of Texas. She studied public relations and spent much of her free time hiking on the Barton Creek Greenbelt as a way to “escape the madness and decompress.”

Today she works full-time in the public relations world, but she still manages to get outside daily for fresh air, and of course to pick up trash.

Sondecker originally planned to collect trash for 100 consecutive days, thinking that would be both manageable and impactful. But before she even began, she decided that if she could do 100 days, she could do 365. “I immediately upped the ante on myself,” she said.

The daily project has required considerable effort. Some days it takes 50 photos to get one perfect image. Some days it feels like a chore.

“When you’re doing it every day, you have to get creative with the when and how and where of it,” she said. “I’ve picked up trash downtown after work wearing wedges. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

Sondecker’s main motivation comes from knowing that there’s trash out there, and if she doesn’t pick it up nobody else will. Thanks to her work, though, she’s inspiring many more Austinites to help change that story.

You, too, can be a part of Sondecker’s story! Wednesday, May 30, 2018, marks Sondecker’s official 365th day, and Austin Parks Foundation is helping her celebrate a few days later by hosting a Saturday hike/clean combo at the trail that started it all. Everyone is welcome! Meet at the Barton Creek Greenbelt’s 360 Access Point on Saturday, June 2, 2018, from 9:00am to 12:00pm.

June 2nd also happens to be National Trails Day, and we can’t think of a better way to honor both events. Hope to see you there! For details and to register, click here.

People + Parks is a series by writer and photographer Elizabeth McGuire and is dedicated to showcasing the people who make our work possible. Check out other stories by choosing the People + Parks category on our blog.