Orange makes a difference
AVON – As spring settles in the Vail Valley, snow is melting away and green grass is taking its place. But grass isn’t the only thing being uncovered – retreating snow is also revealing a year’s worth of trash along Interstate 70 and the area’s highways.
But by Saturday afternoon, the valley’s roadside trash will be replaced by full orange trash bags, which will them be hauled to the dump, leaving nothing but pristine shoulders – at least for a little while. From Vail Pass to Dotsero and south to Red Cliff, about 1,000 volunteers in fluorescent vests and thick gloves will gather up the undesirable junk from the sides of the roads as part of the annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup. “The best advertising for this is spring,” said Caroline Bradford, director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, the environmental group coordinating the event. “Snow melts, the trash is revealed and it is disgusting. And you can’t help but have the urge to get out of your car and pick up that can or bottle, and this is just an organized way to do it safely.”
Although this form of highway cleanup is just a few years old, Valley residents have been organizing trash pickups since the 1960s. “It’s just that all the people that were picking up trash started picking up trash together,” Bradford said. Bradford initially started one cleanup in the Red Cliff area. It transformed to 300 people picking up trash from Vail Pass to Wolcott, which then mushroomed to the 1,000-person cleanup covering more than 120 miles of road all over Eagle County. “It’s big and good and wonderful,” Bradford said. “People honk and wave. It’s exciting to be out there. We get a lot of positive reinforcement from the people out there.”
When Zach Tibodeau took over the environmental coordinator position at Beaver Creek Resort, he also happily took on managing a team of Beaver Creek employees for the highway cleanup. This year, his team of about 30 will scour U.S. Highway 6 from Eagle-Vail Road to Arrowhead. “It’ll be nice because we’ll be able to clean up Beaver Creek’s front door,” Tibodeau said. Mona Marana, an executive assistant for the Steadman Hawkins Clinic, integrated volunteer work into her life when she lived in Boston and Oregon, and didn’t slow down when she moved to Vail seven years ago. With help from her colleagues, Marana organizes about 15 people every year for the highway cleanup.”Basically, it’s just a way to give back to the community,” she said. “This is such a beautiful, great place to live, and it’s about doing something that makes you feel good about where you live.”
But it’s not all work and no play. After a few hours of hard work, volunteers are treated to a party, including burgers, brats, salads, brownies and beer. Also part of the fun is the show-and-tell where teams will share the wackiest trash they’ve found. Bradford’s team once found a huge suitcase in a tree near the Edwards’ exit ramp. Still at the beginning of their cleanup, they left the suitcase on the side of the road, excited about opening it up in front of the crowd at the party.”We went through a lot of trouble to get this big, blue, vinyl suitcase out of the tree,” Bradford said. “It was gone when we came back. We have no idea what was in it.”
Groups have also found wallets, some belonging to people they know. One man actually arrived at the party to pick up his long lost wallet. Tibodeau laughed thinking about the women’s undergarments he’s discovered during cleanups, but unfortunately, the grossest thing Tibodeau ever found was a dead animal, likely a dog, he said.Marana had a similar story – she and a friend had lugged a big muddy object halfway up a hillside along Vail Pass before they realized it was a severed deer carcass. Leftover from truckers, including bottles of urine and truck chains were also among some unpleasant finds. But at the end of the day, most volunteers hail the cleanup as good, semi-clean fun. “Seeing those orange bags, mile after mile after mile is thrilling because you’re part of something big,” Bradford said. “And it’s clean. It’s really clean. You can see the difference. It’s sort of miraculous.”
Originally planned for Earth Day, the annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup will be from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. To sign up to pick up trash along the Vail Valley’s interstate and highways, contact Diane Coggin at 376-8502. About 1,000 people are needed to clean more than 120 miles of road. Children under 12 are not allowed on the interstate. Teenagers must be with their parents. A party with food and drinks will take place after the cleanup at 4 Eagle Ranch, four miles north of Interstate 70 on state Highway 131.Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado