Volunteers clean up other people’s messes | VailDaily.com

Volunteers clean up other people’s messes

Cliff Thompson
Vail Daily/Bret Hartman Janette Henry cleans up some wooden stakes while Brian Seidel waits to fill another garbage bag on Interstate 70 last spring. This year's freeway cleanup is May 1.

The way David Blackwell sees it, picking up other people’s trash is the right thing to do.

He’s not alone in that assessment. Blackwell will join a small army of community members estimated to total 700, that will don orange safety vests and take to the roads and fill orange trash bags during the Community Pride Highway Cleanup. They will be picking up an estimated 35,000 pounds of roadside trash May 1 on 115 miles of highway in Eagle County.

The cleanup is like a lot of endeavors that need doing: It feels good once it’s done, says Blackwell, a vice-president of human resources at the Vail Valley Medical Center who has helped on the cleanup for the last four years. He works cleaning up a stretch of Interstate 70 on Vail Pass, where winter and spring alternate, sometimes just minutes apart.

“I can’t always say it feels good while you’re doing it,” he says. “It depends on the weather.”

Cleanup volunteer Jennifer Wyse, a close-out coordinator and warranty service manager for R.A. Nelson, also participates in the cleanup for altruistic reasons.

“It’s not just for my benefit,” she says. “Keeping it clean makes it a better environment for everybody.”

Wyse and her cleanup group take care of two miles of the bike path that runs from Edwards westward. Some families bring their children to this safe stretch of cleanup.

“It’s good education for the children,” she says. “Somebody has to come through and pick it up.”

The cleanup started in 1997 when a group of friends decided to do something about the roadside trash they were seeing on their drives to and from work. Since then the effort has mushroomed into what is becoming a major event for the community, where elected officials work side by side with cooks, carpenters and professionals.

Getting popular

Caroline Bradford, one of the organizers of the event, is now worried the 700 tee shirts she’s ordered for the volunteers, won’t be enough.

“It’s a see and be seen kind of event,” said Bradford, also the director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, an environmental group. “It’s the broadest cross-section of the valley. All we ask of people is for their time and energy. There’s no silent auction. We don’t ask for money.”

Bradford was the organizer of the original cleanup day which involved 25 of her friends who were tired of seeing the roadside trash exposed as snowbanks melted. After the cleanup and an impromptu celebration that involved adult beverages, the group resolved to also clean up a portion of Interstate 70.

They contacted members of civic organizations who had adopted stretches of highway for their own cleanup and asked them to coordinate their cleanup activities with her group.

This year there will be 92 teams of up to 10 people gathering trash alongside the interstate, U.S. Highway 6 and parts of Highway 131 heading toward Steamboat Springs. Bradford said more volunteers are needed for several stretches of highway. Each year, the amount of trash picked up has declined.

“We’ve picked up most of the old trash and now are working on the annual accumulation,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is to just have a big party and not have to pick up any trash.”

This Bud’s for you

Discarded beer bottles, particularly Budweiser and Bud Light, seem to the be litter of choice, said Bradford. Usually the potentially recyclable material is too dirty to be recycled, she said.

The roadside cleanup also has an additional environmental benefit, said Bradford. It makes the river cleanup conducted in the autumn that much easier because it prevents additional trash from making its way into the river.

It costs $24,000 in donated services and another $8,000 for materials, food and beer for the volunteers, Bradford said. Vail Resorts is the major sponsor for the event.

The post-cleanup party will be held at the Lazy J Ranch south of Wolcott, and will feature the bluegrass sounds of All Strung Out and food prepared by the Beaver Creek Mountain Dining group with beverages donated by Pier 13 Liquors. The Colorado Department of Transportation and Waste Management will pick up the trash that has been collected and bagged and dozens of other businesses have donated time, materials or equipment.

Volunteer Jane Hart, from the Avon Library, said she does it because it makes the communities of the valley look good. “It’s an easy thing to do,” she said. “It sets our community apart and makes us feel like we re a community.”

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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