By JILL SANFORD  |  Moonshine Ink

We’ve all seen the aftermath of a busy tourist weekend — heaps of trash litter our beaches, trails, and sidewalks. It’s so easy to point fingers at those who might be careless with the natural beauty of this area, but it’s much more productive to actually do something about it.

Rowan Bohnet, 11, decided on the latter. This young eco-entrepreneur started Rowan’s Recycled Rafts, or RRRafts, after seeing the amount of trash left at Donner Lake after the Fourth of July fireworks.

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“There was a bunch of leftover rafts after we went to see the fireworks, so I just started collecting them,” Bohnet explains. “My dad had the idea and we started fixing them up.”

Bohnet patches leaks in these damaged rafts with rubber cement, replaces old valves, and gives them a good scrub. She sells the inflatables out of her parents’ white SUV in Tahoe City, at Truckee Thursdays, along Donner Lake, and throughout North Tahoe.

Her hard work pays off, and not just in a way that provides her a little extra spending money. Bohnet is picking up trash that we all hate to see in this beautiful area, but she is also taking her good deed a step further by encouraging people to see the benefits of reusing and repairing rather than just throwing something out after only a few uses.

The soft-spoken but passionate 6th-grader has been interested in the environment since she watched the documentary Plastic Paradise: Great Pacific Garbage Patch about an island of trash that floats around the ocean and damages the ecosystem.

“I watched it last year and did a science project on how we can keep that from happening,” Bohnet says. “Instead of letting it grow, I think we should help that situation and pick the trash up.”

“It’s one small thing, it might not save the world, but it’s a start,” adds Rowan’s dad, Stephen Bohnet. “What’s really interesting is the community support. Once people found out what Rowan is doing they just started giving us rafts. They really like the cleanup effort,” he said.

Stephen posted a photo of Rowan hard at work selling RRRafts on the Truckee/Tahoe People Facebook page, and the response has been outstanding. In just a few short weeks since Rowan started her business, almost 700 people liked the post, 44 people have shared it, and over 35 people commented on it — and the positive feedback keeps growing.

When she started her business, Rowan set the ambitious sales goal of $100 and was blown away when she hit her target within the first month of selling her repaired rafts. She has her eye on the bigger picture, however.

“It’s awesome that I made more than $100, but the best part about it is cleaning up the river,” she says. When not collecting or fixing up rafts, Rowan spends her free time playing volleyball, swimming in lakes, and acting.

Social media followers, family friends, and local businesses such as the River Ranch have donated used and damaged rafts to RRRafts. “We’re happy the rafts get a second use out of them and are kept out of the landfills as much as possible,” says Justin Stout, Restaurant Manager at the River Ranch.

If the size of the rip in a raft is larger than about 2 inches, it’s too hard to fix so she just cuts up those rafts to use for patch material, her dad explains. People have also started to pay her to fix their old rafts and inner tubes for them rather than deciding to purchase new ones.

“We were totally surprised by the people who come to her because they don’t know how to patch their own rafts,” says Rowan’s mother Amber. Repurposing and reusing these inflatables, even if the owner doesn’t intend to leave them behind as litter, keeps them out of the landfills and decreases the amount of plastic that is out there clogging up the world.

The beauty of Rowan’s mission is that it has the power to go beyond just her business and inspire people to make better choices about waste and recycling in their daily lives. “I think people like giving the rafts to me because they don’t like watching them rot in the ground,” she says.

Trash pickup days, where volunteers come out in droves to manually clean up our local communities and environment, happen periodically throughout the summer. Keep Tahoe Red, White and Blue and Truckee Day have been just a couple of examples of when people who care about this area decide to make a difference.

This community is full of stewards of the environment, but we can all agree that Rowan’s Recycled Rafts and the 11-year-old business woman behind it are an inspiration.

“It’s a sign that she’s doing something important,” Stephen says about the staggeringly positive response from the community. He looks his daughter in the eye and adds, “So stick with it.”

And that is certainly a statement you will hear echoed throughout Tahoe.

To purchase a raft from Rowan, to learn more about what she is up to, or just to congratulate her on a job well done, visit facebook.com/RRRafts/ or email RRRafts@gmail.com.

 

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