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Hundreds brave rain and snow to clean trash off Interstate 70

Matt Zalaznick
Vail Daily/Melinda KruseMinturn's Katrina Baca, 10, and her aunt, Penny Baca of Breckenridge, help clean Interstate 70 Saturday in West Vail.
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The junk also bugs just about everybody else who lives between Vail Pass and Dotsero, said volunteers who scoured the sides of Interstate 70 Saturday morning, digging trash out of the snow in the annual Community Pride Clean Up.

“Trash your car, not our community,” said Kim Bradley, an Eagle resident cleaning I-70 near Battle Mountain High School.

“Wherever you’re going, there’s going to be a trash can,” said friend Bridgit Taylor.

For the third year in a row, hundreds of volunteers carried garbage bags alongside I-70 picking up trash that has been buried under the snow all winter. Volunteers could be spotted in Dowd Junction scampering like Bighorn sheep up the steep slopes above U.S. Highway 6. Another brave cleaner wedged himself between the guardrails in the very narrow median on the big curve heading into Eagle-Vail.

Among the stranger pieces of garbage located were a pair of pants and hockey pads in Wolcott and $60 in Eagle-Vail.

The most disgusting junk?

“Baby diapers,” said Vail resident Elizabeth Lester, who cleaned up around the Wolcott interchange.

“The scariest things we found were bottles with unknown contents,” said Shawna Smith, after scouring the interstate near Battle Mountain HIgh School.

Cleaning up left volunteers like Margie Altman with a “bittersweet” feeling.

“It feels good to do it,” Altman said. “But while you’re doing it, you’re kind of appalled at the things people throw out their window. We only covered a small space because there was so much trash.”

And Altman doesn’t even live in the valley.

“I live in Boulder, but I’m moving here this summer and I wanted to get it all ready,” she said.

Some volunteers put off more adventurous activities to participate in the clean up Saturday morning.

“If people could put trash in proper receptacles, I could be kayaking right now,” said Susie Hodano, who cleaned in Eagle-Vail.

The clean up is organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Vail and Eagle Valley Rotary Clubs. Additional major sponsors include Vail Resorts and Beaver Creek Mountain Dining.

A Red Bull representative riding in a truck roaming along I-70 handed out cans of the popular energy drink to the volunteers.

The stretch of I-70 with the worst reputation is in Eagle-Vail, parallel to the commercial stretch of U.S. Highway 6, many volunteers said.

“I hate trash,” said East Vail resident Mary Tingley, who cleaned up that area. “This is really horrible.”

Considering that many of us in the Vail Valley think of ourselves as environmentalists just because we live in the Vail Valley, where does all this trash come from?

For one thing, I-70 crosses the country from Baltimore to Utah.

“People drive through town and don’t think their little piece of trash is going to have an impact,” said Joe Blair while cleaning in Eagle-Vail. “But it adds up.”

So what’s the most exciting part of the clean up?

“I saw a gopher,” Blair said. “But maybe it was a marmot.”

At least some of the trash –rubber from tires and other car parts – appears to have been scattered accidentally. But perhaps the most troubling pieces of trash were the hundreds of beer cans and beer bottles volunteers found, said Eric Pence.

“The amount of beer cans and bottles make you wonder how many people are out there drinking and driving,” Pence said.

Pence’s son Ethan, 4, was one of the youngest volunteers.

“It’s called littering,” Ethan said, while gobbling down a hotdog at the post- clean up barbecue at the Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott.

The wintery weather prevented some clean up teams from heading up Vail Pass, where chain laws were in effect after Saturday morning’s snowstorm.

But those groups plan to clean up the pass in the coming weeks, so drive carefully if you see them hopping along the highway with their orange vests and orange garbage bags.

Surveying the interstate after the clean up, many volunteers said they were satisfied.

“The highway looks so much more clear,” said Eric Burgund, after clearing trash in Eagle-Vail. “Our effort was a triumph.”

“It was pretty dirty,” said Melissa Schmalz, who also cleaned in Eagle-Vail. “It looks good now. We got a lot of trash.”

Vail Daily reporter John Wright contributed to this report.


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