An interview with Brian Bell of forest clean up crew, Keep Virginia Cozy
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
Brian Bell grew up living the quintessential life of the American boy. Skinned knees, muddy boots, long walks in the woods. One could say that by today’s standards his childhood was a little different from the norm. Growing up in the hills of Virginia, Bell learned to appreciate the solitude of nature and all its beauty. Instead of being holed up inside all day playing video games he would wander off into the woods to find solitude.
Today, Bell’s attitude hasn’t changed a bit. These days he has taken the same passion to not only get people outside but to motivate them to take care of our environment with his simple yet effective volunteer program called, Keep Virginia Cozy.
For the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux chats with Bell about his upbringing, Keep Virginia Cozy, and how picking up trash in the woods can actually be quite therapeutic.
So if there is one thing that can be said about Bell, it’s that he lives and breathes the outdoors. When talking about his childhood, he looks back with a sense of nostalgia and contentment.
“I am super thankful for that time,” says Bell, “Growing up some kids complain about being bored all the time but I never really had that problem because I was always outside. So that's kind of where I started cultivating my love of the outdoors and my passion for solitude. I learned how to enjoy what nature has given us.”
As he got older, Bell’s passion for nature only grew. He recalls with visceral detail his times backpacking across the Pacific Northwest; being in awe of the towering monolithic rock formations overhead and peering down into the raging ocean below.
“I felt like I was walking around the set of Jurassic Park,” says Bell. “I enjoyed seeing these places because they were beautiful. What I didn’t enjoy however is seeing these amazing places and then noticing the crushed Natty Light cans to my left.”
After experiencing that, Bell and his friends made it a point to pack away any trash they found on future hikes. As far as Bell imagined, if he was walking around God’s creation he might as well help clean up as he went along. So what started as just a small idea became a group campaign dubbed Trashy Tuesdays where Bell and other hikers would walk around trails and pick up trash.
“It’s funny saying this but thank you for doing that,” says Lux.
“It’s no problem,” Bell replies. “I actually find it very therapeutic,” he admits. “Walking down a trail and spending an hour picking up trash. It's not that I like picking up trash, but it's very like calming for me to zone out and know that I'm giving back in a way that everyone can enjoy.”
This sentiment of giving back to nature so others may enjoy is what established Bell’s program, Keep Virginia Cozy. Since its inception only two years ago, volunteers from Keep Virginia Cozy have removed an incredible 45,000 pounds of litter from Virginia’s waterways and trails.
A few years back when the federal government shutdown and the national parks fell prey to vandals and neglect, Bell took a group of volunteers up to Shenandoah to make things right again.
“A bunch of stuff happened in Shenandoah National Park that had no business happening,” says Bell.
“Somebody had rammed the gate with their truck and then there was leftover food containers and trash everywhere. People had spray painted over Trailhead signs. So we did all we could to clean all that up. We hiked a few miles and packed out probably about 40 pounds of litter.”
It was a gargantuan task but Bell and his crew got the job done. At its core, Keep Virginia Cozy wouldn’t be what it is without the help of its many volunteers to whom Bell is more than thankful for.
“These folks come out of the goodness of their own heart,” he says. “They get to socialize with other likeminded people and spend an hour a week doing something that makes them not only feel good but also produces tangible results.”
Bell and his group are a selfless bunch. Though Keep Virginia Cozy is still a very new organization, Bell has plenty of plans and aspirations for his mission to keep trails clean. He says if there are still volunteers 10 years from now he would be more than happy with his goal of planting the seed of conservation into the lives of so many people. Because at the end of the day, Bell’s lesson is really one of give and take. For everything we take and enjoy from the environment we should be just as willing to give back so others may enjoy it. Our actions have consequences whether good or bad. It’s just up to us to leave the right mark on the world.
Bell describes it even better in his own words
“If I just drove through your neighborhood and threw a bag of trash out in your front yard, kept driving, and just never came back, it wouldn't have any real effect on me because I'm never going back there,” he says, “But I've changed your day and I've changed your environment. Our impact is a lot bigger than we give it credit for.”
For more information on Keep Virginia Cozy check out their website keepvirginiacozy.org as well as their socials on Facebook and Instagram @KeepVirginiaCozy. To hear the full story on Brian Bell, Keep Virginia Cozy, and some of his favorite spots to hike in the Pacific Northwest, check out the Life in Motion podcast with Jeremy Lux on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.