Red and blue Solo cups are strewn along tables and toppling over tops of trash cans, their vibrant, synthetic colors intermingled with crunchy, colorful fall leaves. Sacks of beer cans, partially dismantled tents, boxes of trash and bottles of liquor are all left beneath a canopy of trees.
The Grove hosts one hell of a party every home football game. Thousands of fans pour in from every direction for a tailgating experience that cannot be beat. But the party does not end after the team takes the Walk of Champions, after kickoff in the Vaught. It does not end after the Pride of the South performs its halftime show, or even after 0.0 ticks on the clock.
The party ends late in the evening or in the early morning hours, fans having already piled into cars and carried to the Square or to the nearest place to crash. Families headed home – fans have come and gone. This is when a team of thoughtful volunteers descends upon the disastrous mess.
Grove cleanup is a group effort each week. The University and landscape services rely on contract labor, student groups and non-profit organizations to help carry the burden of beautifying the Grove once more.
Anyone who has been to the Grove on game day knows we make a big mess, but just how big are we talking? According to landscape services, early kickoff games usually generate 160-200 cubic yards of waste, while bigger SEC games and late kick off times typically generate anywhere from 200-400 cubic yards of waste.
“We’ve all seen the remnants of game day in the Grove,” said junior and Baptist Student Union volunteer Emily Haupt. “It’s amazing to see the transformation as everyone works together to restore it to the clean, beautiful space we all love.”
While the work may seem unappealing to some, volunteers often are rewarded for donating their time. Student volunteer, Joshua Thweatt, has regularly helped with Grove cleanup for the past two years.
“We find all kinds of cool stuff. I have found watches, sunglasses and phones. Probably the craziest thing we found was a TV that just got left.”
Volunteers are not permitted by Landscape Services to keep anything they find in the Grove, as rightful owners may return for their belongings. However, the University ensures volunteers do not go home empty-handed. Organizations are paid for their effort, and many use the money to fund mission trips and community efforts.
Cleaning the Grove can be fun, surprising and exhausting, but according to volunteers, it is always rewarding. Enjoying the Grove as a home for tailgating is an experience most students idealize, but cleaning up the aftermath of that fun-filled party is an experience all on its own.