On any given day you will find Michelle Andre and Garrett Essres walking their beloved yellow labs on the beaches of Cayucos with a bucket and trash picker in hand. They have fondly become known as the Yellow Jackets by locals who have become accustomed to seeing them on their daily outing. Michelle and Garrett have been cleaning the Cayucos beaches and surrounding open spaces for over 18 years, often twice a day. Their passion for clean-up came from appreciating the beauty of the Central Coast and a fundamental belief that every bit counts. 

Michelle said that a lot has changed over the years since they first started picking up trash. “In the early days you would see a lot of trash along the highway, especially by Studio Drive,” Michelle said. But as time has gone by, the trash has become less of an issue according to Michelle. She credits that to people seeing the tremendous beauty of the ocean and hillsides, and recognizing that it is always clean. Michelle doesn’t know if it’s a conscious decision or not, but the lack of trash seems to encourage people to not litter. 

Michelle and Garrett take their dogs, Dorey and Allie, with them on their twice a day walks to pick up trash. She said it is a great way to get some exercise, run the dogs, and pick up anything that may have been tossed since the day before. When asked what the most interesting thing is that they’ve found, Michelle said $250! She also said that they have been able to reunite many people with their lost phones. But the best thing about picking up the liter is the many smiles and “thank you’s” they receive from the community. They have served as an inspiration to many locals who now carry a bag on their walks to pick up any loose trash along the way. 

Michelle and Garrett met in college at UCSB before earning their graduate and doctorate degrees, Michelle for psychology and Garrett in forensic psychology. They married in 1982, and Michelle spent her first year of marriage in Anchorage Alaska as a school psychologist while Garrett completed his PhD in San Diego. Michelle fondly remembers using snow shoes to make her way from school to school and encountering many a moose during her time in Alaska. Once back, Michelle spent 30 years at Atascadero Unified School District as a school psychologist / special education director, while Garrett has worked as a forensic psychologist for the California prison system.  

Michelle and Garrett enjoy outdoor activities including biking and hiking, as well as traveling and managing their Airbnb in Cayucos where they get to meet people from all over the world. 

Having just returned from Yosemite, Michelle said that she and Garrett take their buckets and trash pickers with them when they camp as there is always clean-up to be done. Their love of the outdoors will be seeing them participate in a min-triathlon this summer at June Lake where I am sure you will also find them walking the banks of the lake and hiking trails, dogs by their side and buckets in hand.

You might recognize Michelle and Garrett from their Adopt-a-Highway sign by Toro Creek Road: M, G & the Pups. They adopted a 2-mile stretch that reaches south on Hwy 1 from Toro Creek Road to Hwy 41. Michelle said that working with Cal Trans to maintain the highway has been a great partnership and encourages everyone to participate. To find out more information on how you can adopt a highway go to https://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Public-Works/Services/Programs-Outreach/Adopt-A-Road.aspx

So next time you see the “Yellow Jackets” be sure to say hi and thank them for the great work they do!