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Sprucing up I-70

Matt Zalaznick

Whether it’s thrown out or blown out of the cars and trucks speeding by, it’s downright ugly.

And who’s to blame? Well, I-70 starts in Baltimore and ends in the middle of southern Utah’s Fishlake National Forest. So that driver you see hurling his hamburger wrapper out the window in Dowd Junction could be a skier from Avon headed to Vail Mountain or a carpenter from Xenia, Ohio, on his way to Las Vegas.

For the last three springs in a row now, however, several hundred volunteers led by the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Vail and Eagle Valley Rotary Clubs have scoured Eagle County’s 50 miles of HIgh Country interstate, filling thousands of trash bags with everything from car parts to birth control devices to narcotics to dentures.

This year’s clean up is Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and stretches from Vail Pass to the county line at Glenwood Canyon. To volunteer, call “the Mountain,” KZYR 97.7 FM, at 845-8565.

“It’s just plain nasty that people would put anything out of their vehicles. It’s just flat out disgusting,” says one returning volunteer, Jean McGuey. “The cleanup is a great thing to do, but it’s a shame we have to do it.”

McGuey leads a group from the Colorado Mountain Club in cleaning up around Down Junction and Minturn.

“We get a good turn out and pick up a lot of trash,” she says. “I’d like to see those signs back on the highway that say $500 fine for littering.”

Organizer Caroline Bradford, who’s the executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, says I-70 is at risk of being forgotten among dozens of other neighborhood clean ups every spring.

“It’s not like our neighborhood clean ups because we all feel responsible for our own neighborhood,” Bradford said. “This is our common space so we get out and clean up the corridor that links us together.”

Last April, approximately 600 volunteers working from Vail Pass to the county line at Glenwood Canyon stuffed more than 3,000 garbage bags full of trash. And every year, the clean up ends with a free barbecue at the Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott.

New this year will be former volunteer Brian Malloy of Mountain Mobile Massage helping out with the aches and pains of bending over and picking up trash.

“It’s disgusting out there,” Malloy says. “I’ve been working with them and realize there’s a lot of low back pain that goes along with it.”

Malloy is planning to offer massages of five minutes or so at the barbecue.

“There’ll be some relief for them beyond burgers and beer,” Malloy says.

Malloy says he’s looking for some colleagues to help with the massages. He can be reached at 926-3273.

Representatives of Red Bull, meanwhile, also will be driving along the interstate handing out cans of their popular energy drink to clean up volunteers. And EEF Productions will film a documentary of this year’s clean up.

Other major sponsors include Vail Resorts and Beaver Creek Mountain Dining.

This year, as usual, one of the worst stretches is in Eagle-Vail near Battle Mountain High School.

“Some sections look really bad. The traditional section through Eagle-Vail looks bad as usual.” Bradford said. “Of course it’s our goal to pick up less trash every year.”

Erik Williams, another returning volunteer and a youth minister at the Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, will lead a group at one of the nastier stretches of I-70 –Wilmore Lake, the pond-side pseudo-rest stop between Edwards and Wolcott.

“It’s just a plain mess,” says returning volunteer Erik Williams. “We find everything. Things you wouldn’t expect people would throw out or drop out of their cars. It’s nasty.”

Last year, Williams’ group found a few matresses.

The mess is a shame, Williams said, but cleaning up can be edifying.

“It’s great for our church; we can get little kids out there, get them more service-minded,” Williams says.

Once again, the I-70 clean up is this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. All volunteers are welcome afterwards to a barbecue at the Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott.

And those who miss out on the I-70 clean up Saturday can volunteer for the Eagle River Clean Up – also sponsored by the Watershed Council – scheduled for the end of September.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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