By Lisa Morgan

Colin Sauter was already in the habit of evacuating an average of 50,000 pounds of litter a year from the Morongo Basin by himself, when Joshua Tree National Park shut down due to the pandemic. He had even scrubbed off the graffiti on Giant Rock at one point. So, of course, when the Joshua Tree National Park was helpless to maintain sanitation efforts, Colin Sauter and family came to the rescue. He could be found cleaning park bathrooms and picking up and hauling trash out of the sacred park using his personal vehicle and paying dump fees out of his own pocket. Having put a name to this effort, Sauter put the call out:

“My mission is to work with the community and clean up our local environment, not only for Joshua Tree, but for the Morongo Basin. During the shutdown, many became passionate for the need to step up and help the National Park, but it doesn’t have to stop there. In the short two weeks since I started this project, I helped with the cleaning of the National Park, Giant Rock, and the Joshua Tree Dry Lakebed. I plan to continue my efforts and hopefully inspire others to hopefully get out and do something for their community. I will not stop! I have started to gain sponsors, and I have found volunteers that are just as dedicated and passionate as I am. Now is the time to keep the Desert Cleanse Project going. Why be part of the problem when you can be part of the solution. Are you in?”

A former fireman, a fiercely loving husband, and an avid dirt play enthusiast, Sauter is deeply respected and appreciated by those who have worked with him. When Colin Sauter puts the word out, a determined gathering answer. They consist of mostly fellow offroad enthusiasts and one very special cookie lady. In a matter of hours, they clean up thousands of pounds of trash that Sauter will then take to the dump. The community he has gathered in recent months has reclaimed 11,000 pounds of debris in Yucca Valley and Acoma Hills, and with the help of the sheriff’s department, an astonishing 22,000 pounds at the Joshua Tree Lakebed. 93 illegally dumped tires were also disposed of properly.

While the group is not an official nonprofit organization, fans of his work have made donations, and businesses have given him sponsorships to help him continue this necessary work. “Our mission is to rid the desert of trash and nails,” says Sauter. “Our family cleans local camping and off-roading areas, retired homeless camps, and BLM land. We strive to educate others on how the desert accumulates trash and inspire others to join us in taking care of it.”

Sauter works closely with the nonprofit, Tread Lightly! The organization and its partners lead a national initiative to protect and enhance recreation access and opportunities by promoting outdoor ethics to heighten individuals’ sense of good stewardship. Tread Lightly!’s goal is to balance the needs of the people who enjoy outdoor recreation with the need to maintain healthy ecosystems and thriving populations of fish and wildlife. The scope of their work includes both land and water and is representative of nearly every form of outdoor recreation with a niche in promoting safe and responsible use of motorized and mechanized vehicles in the outdoors.

“Desert Cleanse Project works tirelessly for this area, removing trash and doing other charitable work. Collin and Jill Sauter’s dedication and work ethic serve as great examples to their community.”

– Mindie Walkoviak, Tread Lightly! Agreements and Programs Manager

Tread Lightly! Recently released their fourth quarter impact report:


Project: Joshua Tree Public Land Cleanup
Location: Joshua Tree, California
Description: On November 26-28, instead of shopping Black Friday deals, off-road enthusiasts and organizations partnered together for a public land cleanup day in Joshua Tree, California. Together they filled two dumpsters removing nearly 6 tons of trash from approximately 20 square miles near the Joshua Tree Lakeview Lakebed. Tread Lightly! would like to thank Rigged for Dirt, Our Land, and local group Desert Cleanse Project for their work in bringing together groups like: Stinger Offroad, Eezy Supplies, Milestar Tires, Dang Brothers Pizza, Cross Country Mortgage and Burrtec Waste Management as well as local volunteers. Their hard work and collaboration efforts go a long way in building awareness around what it means to do your part.

There are those of us who care deeply, have compassion, and understand the importance of taking care of our environment. We are people of good intentions. But then there are people, like Colin Sauter, who turn good intentions into amazing acts of generous service.

Follow Desert Cleanse Project on Facebook or Instagram to answer the next call to serve your community.
The next cleanup is February 19.

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