History of Big Sweep

Timeline history of big sweep

Getting Started

First Big Sweep
Atlantic Beach Sweep in 1987 with Governor Jim Martin

Big Sweep started in 1987 with the help of an educator named Dr. Lundie Spence of the North Carolina Sea Grant College Program. On a Friday night in September, Wake County Keep America Beautiful (KAB) Board members and families drove to the beach, spent the night in a hotel, and met up with Carteret County KAB folks. On that Saturday morning, met with a frenzy of public interest, around 1,000 volunteers cleaned the beach. They found a slew of trash including beer bottles and cans from waterside parties on "Radio Island". This initial effort called "Beach Sweep" was only the beginning and as time went on interest and the need for funding grew.

Early Days

Group of volunteers
Randy Senzig 1999 Middle Creek Big Sweep

"Beach Sweep" partnered with International Coastal Cleanup and expanded inland in 1989 to become "North Carolina Big Sweep", a statewide 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This also marked the nation’s first statewide waterway cleanup initiative. Lois Nixon, then inland partner, head of Wake County Keep America Beautiful, and eventual N.C. Big Sweep Board Chairman, was excited to help expand the program to the piedmont to drive the point that everything, trash included, flows to the ocean! Veteran coordinators of the program mentored neighboring jurisdictions and eventually all 100 counties in North Carolina had at least one cleanup.

NC Big Sweep

walnut creek wetland center old big sweep
Early 2000's cleanup at Walnut Creek Wetland Center

Judy Bolin was the President of N.C. Big Sweep starting in 1995. The program conducted annual cleanups on the 3rd Saturday in September, mimicking the Ocean Conservancy cleanups, but in North Carolina the hurricanes liked that date too. Often, Big Sweep had to postpone or cancel cleanups, so it was decided that fall cleanups could be scheduled any time in September or October. Each county had a coordinator and the entire state participated in Big Sweep!

Several sites started in the early 1990's with N.C. Big Sweep including

  • Walnut Creek Wetland Park
  • Crabtree Creek
  • Lake Wheeler
  • Falls Lake and Jordan Lake
  • Blue Jay County Point Park
  • Umstead Park
  • Shelley Lake
  • Lake Crabtree County Park

Today: Wake County Big Sweep

Volunteer in kayak
Volunteer cleaning veteran zone, Crabtree Creek, via kayak

Unfortunately, N.C. Big Sweep dissolved in 2014 due to lack of funding. Counties were left to either abandon their programs or continue to conduct their own Big Sweeps. Thankfully, Wake Soil & Water Conservation District understood the importance of Big Sweep and kept the program going led by our own Environmental Educator, Sheila Jones. Today, Wake County Big Sweep is continuing to engage, educate, and empower our communities to protect our natural resources through cleanup efforts. We had our best year yet in 2022 and look forward to continuing to expand and create clean communities, clean water, & BIG CHANGE!