Don Valley stewardship group keeps momentum going despite pandemic

The Don’t Mess With The Don leadership team, from left, John Scott, Sean Symes, Irene Vandertop, Lawrence Warriner, and Floyd Ruskin. Due to the pandemic, the stewardship group has cancelled it’s large-scale clean-up events but is encouraging people to keep the momentum going regardless. – DMWTD photo above

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Don Valley stewardship group keeps the momentum going despite pandemic
Big events on hold, but ‘get outside and do something positive’
News July 27th 2020 at 02:10 PM

by Joanna Lavoie

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put a temporary hold on its large-scale clean-up events, the Don’t Mess With the Don (DMWTD) group hasn’t stopped its stewardship efforts.

Since the onset of the public health crisis, the three-year-old grassroots organization has held weekly pop-up events, where people come together informally in small, physically distanced groups and pick up the garbage and remove junk from the Don Valley. They’ve also organized some invasive species clearing sessions where volunteers have met to remove dog strangling vine from the Sun Valley area by Bayview Avenue and west of the Don Valley Parkway.

It’s all about finding a way to stay focused on the bigger picture under this new and different paradigm, said Floyd Ruskin, one of five volunteers who run Don’t Mess With the Don.

“This year is obviously a little different, but we wanted to find a way to keep the momentum going,” he said, adding, for now, DMWTD is keeping things low key and not widely promoting their events, which under normal circumstances can draw hundreds of people.

“We’re very mindful of physical distancing. We encourage people to wear masks and gloves.”

Due to the pandemic, the group was forced to cancel its massive season launch clean-up event, which was set to take place May 3 at E.T. Seton Park.

Regardless, Ruskin said people have been coming out on their own and taking part in the much smaller pop-ups to help maintain the Don Valley. He estimates they’ve amassed more than 500 contractor-sized bags of trash since mid-March.

Ruskin said there is no doubt a social element to the stewardship work they do, but for now, safety comes first.

“People often congregate afterwards, so it’s a bit tough these days,” he admitted, adding at this time people aren’t encouraged to hang around and socialize with others.

“Once the regulations change, we’ll pick up again and do larger clean-up events.”

In the meantime, he encouraged families and close friends to continue to do their own mini-clean-ups in the Don Valley.

“It’s a little different, but concerned citizens can still do their part,” Ruskin said.

“Get outside and do something positive.”

Joanna Lavoie
by Joanna Lavoie

Joanna Lavoie is an award-winning, bilingual journalist with more than a decade of diverse experience. A graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism Program, she is a breaking news reporter for