Valley turns out for highway cleanup
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Spring cleaning has been a human ritual ever since there have been seasons. But cleaning up an entire valley takes a little more effort.
The Eagle River Watershed Council has sponsored a highway cleanup day for more than a dozen years, a springtime counterpart to the group’s river cleanup in the fall. The effort is needed, as anyone who has walked along a local roadway can attest. Everyone who participates has a different reason for coming out. But a common element is pride in the place they live.
For the past several years, Wolcott resident Jack Affleck has grabbed several bags and, along with his dog, walks from the top of Bellyache Road to the bottom, filling five or six big trash bags on the six-mile trip.
Affleck, who lives on Bellyache Ridge, said he finally got sick of seeing all of the trash that accumulated over the winter at a scenic overlook near the top of the road. That spot’s popular for drinking and various forms of youthful social interaction (making out), so trash tends to pile up.
“I finally got sick of looking at it,” Affleck said.
Working alone, Affleck said he’ll sometimes find some interesting items – things that look like pieces of old machinery – along with the usual modern junk.
Cregan Ortner, of Edwards, sees plenty of modern junk on her walk to the bus stop every morning. A veteran of cleanup days past, she hadn’t participated in a while. This year was different. When she called to volunteer, not only did she get her home stretch of road, she was made a team leader. The day before the cleanup, she was expecting about five people total to clean the road between the Villas at Brett Ranch, where she lives, and U.S. Highway 6.
While Saturday was billed as a highway cleanup – and plenty of people were expected for interstate trash-picking, the side roads still have plenty of trash and provide a less-frenzied environment for people who want to help but don’t much care for the idea of working so close to high-speed traffic.
Singletree Community Manager Kim Ahmad said families with young kids are often sent to the quieter streets. And, she added, an older couple also participates on the slower roads, with the husband, tongue firmly in cheek, claiming his wife might push him into traffic if they work along the interstate.
Ahmad said what she sees most often during the cleanup days is community pride.
“We all try to keep our homes clean, and this is our home,” she said. Beyond that, a place like this, where people tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, wants to keep itself looking good.
“You never like to see a bottle or something along a trail,” she said.
The day before the cleanup, it looked like this year’s volunteer turnout could be one of the strongest.
Elena Jones, the Watershed Council’s marketing and finance director, spent days before the cleanup with volunteer folders, bags and orange vests as steadfast companions. Jones said it seemed like there was a little more interest than usual in this year’s cleanup.
“There wasn’t much snow to cover it this year – people had to look at the trash longer – but there’s a lot of great energy this year,” Jones said.
Whatever the reasons, the volunteers are doing a job that needs to be done, Jones said.
“I don’t know where it all comes from – I don’t know anybody who just throws stuff out – but there’s sure a lot of it,” Jones said.