Karen Nierlich shows trash she cleared from a storm drain's grate.
Karen Nierlich shows trash she cleared from a storm drain’s grate during one of the Blue Glove Crew’s power walks conducted on and near Berkeley’s Solano Avenue three times a week. Photo: Pete Rosos

It all started with a desire to lose weight. Six years ago, Allen Cain, Executive Director of the Solano Avenue Association and Solano Stroll, decided as a New Year’s resolution to shed some pounds, set an example for his daughter, and help tidy up the North Berkeley street at the heart of his organization. How would he do this? With regular power walks/trash pick-up expeditions.

Cain spent roughly three years walking, at a feverish pace, up and then back down Solano, cleaning up en route. Eventually others joined him and, thus, the Blue Glove Crew was born.

Berkeleyside contributing photographer Pete Rosos joined the crew for several of their walks recently, and created the photo essay published here.

Left to right: Daniel Kreter, Karen Nierlich, and Peter Schakow head south on San Pablo Avenue during a Blue Glove Crew clean-up power walk. Photo: Pete Rosos

Wearing their signature gloves, the brigade picks up debris, peels off posters that are illegally attached to telephone poles, and places obviously lost items, like glasses and mittens, on top of public trash receptacles for owners to recover, according to Sylvia Paull who said she occasionally dons her own lab gloves and joins the crew “just to find out what businesses are moving in or out on the avenue and the latest scandals — if any — in local politics.”

Rosos was impressed with what he saw: “This is a very enthusiastic and tight-knit group that doesn’t just talk about their convictions, they follow through with action,” he said. “They seemed to have found the perfect combination of ‘what’s good for the neighborhood’ and ‘what’s good for myself’ in the respective forms of cleaning up the streets and getting a great workout while doing it. What’s more, this isn’t just a passing fad. They’ve been doing this as a group for several years and don’t seem to be showing any signs of letting up any time soon.”

Allen Cain, Karen Nierlich, and Tod Abbott clear a particularly messy corner of San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Pete Rosos

On one of the walks, Rosos asked Cain for tips for others who might be inspired to start a similar citizen clean-up/exercise group in their neighborhood.

“First, stop talking about it, and just get out there and do it,” Cain said. Once you get a group of people together, the most important thing to discuss is safety, Cain counseled — from dealing with traffic to the type of waste you pick up (sharp objects, etc.). “Then, just get out there and have fun,” he said.

As for the original goal of the project, Cain said the 4-mile long regular speed walks and constant stooping for garbage have led him to shed 35 pounds, although he admits that giving up beer and soda might have accelerated the weight loss.

Karen Nierlich grabs disgarded sandwich paper from the sidewalk. Photo: Pete Rosos
Jennifer Hanson-Romero and Karen Nierlich head east on Solano Avenue. Photo: Pete Rosos
Daniel Kreter shows off not just a wine bottle cork, but the broken corkscrew too. Photo: Pete Rosos
Daniel Kreter and Peter Schakow pick up the remainder of a broken taillight on San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Pete Rosos
No Dumping. Clearing out a storm drain on San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Pete Rosos
Allen Cain starts gathering cardboard. Karen Nierlich comes to help out. Photo: Pete Rosos
Left to right: Blue Glove Crew members Tod Abbott, Allen Cain, Daniel Kreter, Karen Nierlich, Peter Schakow, and Jennifer Hanson-Romero. Photo: Pete Rosos

The Blue Glove Crew walks on a regular schedule of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. They meet at 7:55 a.m. on the corner of Masonic and Solano Avenue. For more information, visit the Blue Glove Crew’s Facebook page. [Hat tip: Sylvia Paull.]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...