Growing up just north of New York City, Susan Weiss would see garbage along the sides of the road so often it became commonplace.
That's what inspired Weiss, who has lived in Eagle-Vail for the last 15 years, to get involved with the Community Pride Highway Cleanup, an event put on by the Eagle Valley Watershed Council every spring.
"I'm glad we don't have to live with that as the norm," she said. "The opposite is true here. If you see just a little bit of garbage, it will stand out."
But with around 150 miles of highways in our small valley, it takes a lot of help to keep the sides of the roads clean.
That's why the Eagle Valley Watershed Council wants you to join the hundreds of volunteers already scheduled to participate in the 13th annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup on Saturday.
"Through Vail Resorts Echo, we want to illustrate our commitment to the community and the environment that surround our resort by supporting critical programs like the I-70 highway cleanup," said Nicky DeFord with Vail Resorts Echo, the presenting sponsor for the event. "More than 100 of our employees participate."
They join the nearly 1,000 other volunteers who take to the highways in bright orange vests. They're hard to miss and if you drive past them, you just may feel compelled to stop, and you should. Just seek out the team leader for that section of road and they'll get you squared away.
"We have strong leaders who have been cleaning the same sections for years," said event organizer Elena Jones with the Watershed Council. "I'm amazed by the great energy this year," she said. "We've had people come out of the woodwork to volunteer."
Tanya Warmenhoven is one volunteer who has been attending the highway cleanup for years.
"We've done various mile markers throughout the valley," Warmenhoven said. "But right now we have a mile marker that's designated in Eagle. ... One of our co-workers' child had passed away in an accident and I thought this would be a great gathering for the group in our office to get together and do this two-mile section every year."
They call it "Miles for Miles" after Miles Franklin May, of Gypsum, who passed away in 2008. He was 6 years old.
"It's a great little thing to do for the community, and it gets everybody together at our office, as well," Warmenhoven said.
Warmenhoven also said the event is a nice way to get some fresh air and a little cardio.
"They do it in two-mile stretches, so you get a few people together and you at least get a mile of picking up trash on the road, so it's great exercise. ... It's usually a pretty nice weekend when we do it."
If you want to volunteer, you'll need to form a team like Miles for Miles or join an already existing one. Call or email Jones and she'll help you form or find a team.
Teams can request an assignment in a general area, but many teams "own" their section of the highway, having cleaned it for 10 or more years.
Cleaning takes place along I-70, Highways 6, 24 and 131 in Eagle County from Vail Pass and Red Cliff to Dotsero.
"In the past ERWC has tackled 121 miles of the valley's main roads," said Melissa Macdonald, Eagle River Watershed Council's executive director. "This year we are expanding to include cleanups in the neighborhood of Eagle-Vail and the town of Eagle. Vail Honeywagon and CDOT, who donate their crews and trucks to pick up all those orange bags, will be even busier this year."
Indeed, Jones recently took the time to count the miles being cleaned this year and said it's right around 150.
For kids, too
If you want to get your family involved, you may be a little nervous about having your youngsters out near the highways.
That's understandable, said Weiss, which is why she's inviting you and your kids to join her group.
"You can't be on I-70 with little kids," Weiss said. "We do the Minturn Ranger Station, which is a safer area for families with little kids. It's away from the highway."
Weiss said over the last few years her Minturn Ranger Station group has turned into the unofficial kids headquarters of the highway cleanup.
"I wanted to get a group of families together with small children because it's important to get them involved at a young age, and they'll always remember they were a part of it," said Weiss. "Most of the families end up coming back for four or five years."
And for kids, the difference between trash and treasure isn't as well defined as it may be for their parents. Last year, sixth-grader Robbie Gruber found a used snowboard while he was cleaning up. The bindings were made of old coat hangers, but for him, it was a treasure nonetheless.
And that's not all.
"Somebody always finds bones," Weiss said. "And you always wonder what happened to the animal."
Anyone is invited to join Weiss' group. The best way to get involved is to contact Jones and the Watershed Council ahead of time, but you're also welcome to simply show up at the Ranger Station on Saturday. Weiss said they start the day with a safety talk and a liability form for the parents, and then the fun part begins.
"You never know what the weather's going to be like, so we always have hot cocoa and doughnuts," she said. "We use the back of my car as a little station to take a break."
But the best part, said Weiss, is the new level of responsibility in the environment that the kids leave with.
"When the kids feel connected, they really get a sense of pride from it," she said. "They get right there and start cleaning up, and then it's off to the barbecue, which is the really fun part."
Celebrate after work is done
The barbecue and after-party will be hosted by Vail Resorts Echo at Arrowhead's Broken Arrow Restaurant. Held from noon to 2 p.m., the free party include live music from local band Derringer, beer from Crazy Mountain Brewery, prizes and a barbecue lunch prepared by the dedicated members of the Arrowhead Alpine Club.
But in addition to the after party, fresh air, sun, exercise, after party, general good feeling you get from community service, and the fact you're spending quality time with family, friends or coworkers, there's also another reason to get involved. In 2011, nearly 800 individuals collected more than 38,000 pounds of trash.
"I feel really good about seeing all the bags on the side of the road," said Warmenhoven.