Friday, May 27, 2011

Garrett County Roads: Repeat Offenders on Mosser, Pysell, and Sang Run

Yesterday I finally finished (for now) picking up the litter down below the guard rail at the bottom of Mosser Road!  It was a huge job, taking four separate trips.  My bins hold 18 gallons, so I figure I collected a total of 102 gallons of trash and about 18 gallons of recyclables from that area alone.  I finished by fishing some cups, cans, and plastic bags out of the lake there, and as I left I saw three fish.  Perhaps they'd come to thank me.  The trash at this location included a lot of packaging material: cardboard boxes, tape, styrofoam chunks, and sheets of plastic bubble wrap in amongst the usual cups, straws, bottles, and cans.  Here's a typical array:

There is a repeat offender here, too.  It's someone who throws styrofoam coffee cups with a napkin neatly tucked down in each one from the right hand lane, waiting for the light at the bottom of Mosser Road.  If you know this person, please ask him or her to stop.

Then I finished up at the intersection of Sang Run and  Hoyes-Sang Run Roads.  In the bushes along the right side of Sang Run Road, upstream from the intersection, there were eight cans of Reddi-Wip!  Strange addiction!  I also found there two 4-inch PVC pipes, about a foot long each, filled with concrete.  And down in Sang Run itself, I fished out one of those woven plastic feed bags, caught on a stick, all ready to go with the flow down to the Youghiogheny, the Monongahela, the Ohio, the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaving that area, turning the corner towards the Yough, I passed a Garrett County road crew truck with clean-up implements sticking up out of the back.  I felt like waving to comrades but was pretty sure they had no idea about who I was or what I was doing.  Then, BAM.  Not 20 feet from the turn, right under the 25 mph sign, was a paper bag with a full six-pack carton sticking out of it.  Now how could the road crew drive right by that???  Why don't our road crews ever pick up obvious, large trash like that?

So I pulled into the pull-off opposite the bag and collected it.  It was clean, recently placed there, and there was a generic styrofoam fast food container beside it.  This made me wonder if the Garrett County road crew could be the perpetrators themselves!  Years ago, road crews would leave their lunch trash at a pull-off on our road, so I wouldn't put it past them.  But in this case, I certainly hope it wasn't they who were drinking the two Michelob Ultras and five Bud Lights and then driving a multi-ton dump truck!

Don't worry, guys, whoever you were!  I got your backs!  I recyled them for you.

So now we have four repeat offenders:  The Keystone Light perp on lower Pysell Road, the styrofoam coffee cup with a napkin perp on lower Mosser Road, the Reddi-Wip perp at the Sang Run intersection, and the 20 oz. milk perp along Sang Run near the whitewater put-in.  If you know any of these perpetrators, please remind them of the law:  a $1,500 fine and possible jail time for each offense.  Of course, there are other reasons to not throw trash, but apparently these people don't care about the rest of the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How the Trash in Appalachia Affects the Oceans

Perhaps you've heard of the "gyre" of plastic floating around in the Pacific Ocean.  I'd heard of it, and I envisioned a sort of solid-looking mass of water bottles and milk jugs, and I thought, "Why don't people with big boats go out there and start picking it all up?"  I even thought of suggesting that to the Sea Shepherd Society, now that they finally managed to stop Japanese whaling (Yay!!!). 

The very night I mentioned that to my husband, he called me in to see a show on TV about just that.  It was a documentary called Bag It.  It explained that there is not just one gyre, but five, where ocean currents come together: one in the North Pacific, one in the South Pacific, one in the North Atlantic, one in the South Atlantic, and I think the other one was in the Indian Ocean.   The one in the North Pacific is estimated to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the whole United States.  And--here's the even worse part--the plastic breaks down from the sunlight into little tiny bits that float beneath the surface. 

Bag It also showed how whole colonies of sea birds are dying from eating plastic, not to mention endangered sea turtles.  They showed the contents of the stomachs of dead ones--full of plastic.  Think about how the ocean is supposed to be to these animals.  Everything in sight is edible, if you can catch it.  Sea turtles love eating jelly fish, and often mistake plastic bags floating in the water for them.  I've got to see Bag It again, but I think they said something like 90% of marine animals have died!!!  It's horrible!

So how does all that plastic get into the ocean?  Down our rivers and along our shores.  So we here in the headwaters of the Potomac River, the Casselman River, the Youghiogheny River, the Cheat River, the Monongahela River, the Ohio River, the Chesapeake Bay, part of it starts with us. 

And if the marine animals are eating the little bits of plastic, no doubt the land animals are too.  I've already written about how styrofoam breaks down into little bits.  I've also noticed that the lids of soda cups become brittle very quickly and fall apart when I try to pick them up.

This past Saturday, my husband and I paddled down the Upper Casselman River for nine miles, from Jennings to a mile or so above the Pennsylvania line.  It started as a small creek, only runnable because we'd recently had 5 1/2 inches of rain.  We went behind a brick factory, still in operation, and there were a lot of old yellow bricks tumbled into the stream.  I don't think they're toxic or anything, though.  The main pollution we saw were plastic bags, both floating in the stream and among the debris from the recent flooding.  Plastic shopping bags.  I didn't have any way to collect trash at the time, being in a little kayak.  Fortunately, they became fewer and fewer as we went along, and then there were none from south of Grantsville and for most of the remainder of the trip.  Two exceptions were along the drainage ditch from Rt. 68, where the trash just came tumbling down, and in an eddy near the southwestern base of the old Casselman River Bridge.

If you're reading this and you live near there, please see what you can do about collecting these.

At our take-out spot in Pennsylvania, there was a sign posted on a tree of the litter law!  I was glad to see it, until I realized I was standing on a huge mound of gray sludge, probably illegally dumped by some fracking operation!  And right behind the sign were about 20 bald tires, in amongst the plants and trees.

Note to Garrett Countians:  We need to outlaw plastic shopping bags!  And if you want to help pick up trash, let me know.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Trash and the Law

My county government doesn't quite know what to make of what I'm doing.  The issue came up when I requested to be able to dump roadside trash without buying an annual sticker.  I got a copy of an e-mail where various levels were discussing me.  Some were concerned that this not get out, as it might make for bad publicity. They finally decided I was a civic group of one!  So they made me a laminated pass with my name, picture, and vehicle tag number on it.  It identifies me as a Garrett County Volunteer, and I have permit #001 for Roadside Litter Disposal.  

In the nick of time, too.  I picked up 72 gallons of trash today, plus about 18 gallons of recyclables, just at the very bottom of Pysell Road and a bit on 219, and then most of it was down below the guard rail at the bottom of Mosser Road.  It was wet, muddy going after our 5 1/2 inches of rain!  It seems like someone "dropped" (wink, wink) a lot of old scraped-off caulking at the bottom of Pysell Road.  And I'll still need to go finish up at the bottom of Mosser. here's the big news...this morning I was researching Maryland's litter laws.  Just yesterday I called the DNR about the disposal of deer remains from hunting, and they said on private property it's up to the land owner, but on public property is okay to leave the remains where the deer is "harvested," so long as it's not visible from the road.  However, the Maryland litter law includes animal remains, and it is illegal to leave them on any public or private land!  Now, why would the DNR police not know that???'s illegal to dump on your own land!  That means that the big concrete slabs that appeared in our stream valley behind my house one day about three weeks ago were illegally dumped, even if the perpetrator gave permission or (hush, hush!) did it himself on his own property!  And the penalties are quite hefty!  If those slabs weigh more than 500 pounds, the person could be sent to jail for five years or be fined $30,000 or both.  Now I certainly wouldn't want a neighbor to have to go through all that.  But I sure would appreciate it if he'd remove those slabs and put them in the landfill where they belong.

I think Maryland residents need to be reminded of the litter laws.  Even someone throwing a cup or can out a car window is subject to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,500. fine.  And it would behoove a county like Garrett that relies on tourist dollars to spruce itself up, even if no one cares about how it's affecting all the animals.

I'm thinking of starting a national movement called the Anti-Litter League.  It's something we ALL should be doing!  If you drive around complaining about all the litter but wait for others to pick it up...guess what?  I've learned that it usually doesn't happen.  You've got to MAKE it happen, yourself! 

So I googled Anti-Litter League, and there is an organization by this name in Ireland, and it's very active!  It seems like the whole country is involved in contests to see which areas are the cleanest, and they have different categories, like school areas, cities, neighborhoods, businesses, etc.  They get funding from the equivalent of the EPA, and the county governments and businesses are very active in promoting this effort.  What they're shooting for is European standards of cleanliness!  So apparently, we're WAY behind Europe in this effort. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Messages in the Trash: Pysell Road in McHenry

I just went out between rain squalls into the glistening green and black woods to seek buried treasures from the past, back before plastic, when all was glass or metal, crockery or porcelain. They are lodged there near the stream in the moss, among the rocks and tree roots, once trash, now mysterious relics to be prodded and unearthed--broken or whole--back out into the light of day.

Who played with this 30s style toy car, rusting away? Who poured wine from this finely crafted glass flask, tumbling grapes sculpted down the front? I even found a tiny ship in a small, broken bottle! And a beautiful piece of pink glass plate, flowers molded on the rim.

This was a popular dump site, judging from the amount that comes to the surface year after year. When you walk around, you hear the broken glass beneath your feet, often just out of sight, which is why I like to remove it. Remember my blog about the two bears drinking out of the stream I walked past once? That was here, right across the stream from all this broken glass, some of it shards sticking straight up, ready to puncture unsuspecting feet. Between 4 and 5:30 I removed two big bins of glass, but there's a lot more there. And there are other things: composition roofing, hoses, rusty bed springs, remains of spark plugs and light bulbs, chunks of crockery, asphalt curbs (!), shoes, but mostly all different shapes and sizes of bottles, from tiny purfume bottles to some broken off necks 3 inches across. I can't imagine what those huge bottles looked like! Maybe there's a whole one farther down.

Farther down the hill, near the grocery store, when I was picking up there last week, I found a message from someone, inadvertently sent some windy day, no doubt. It was a grocery list on the back of one of Gary Larsen's Far Side calendar pages from March 18, 2007.

The cartoon showed two adjacent buildings, one with a sign that said Institute for the Study of Migraine Headaches, and the other with a brightly lit sign that said Floyd's School for Marching Bands. Out of the migraine headache building poured an angry mob, wielding pitchforks, rifles, and baseball bats. The caption read: The dam bursts. This seemed intended for me, as I was diagnosed with migraines about two months ago, luckily long after my daughters spent many years in high school marching bands!

On the back, in neat, casual cursive pencil, was the list: milk, baby carrots, baking pototoes, mushrooms, ww Ritz, colby.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day Three of the Trash Wars: Picking up Garrett County one road at a time

Today is Friday the thirteenth, and there were thunderstorms roaming around all day, so I didn't get out until four. Meanwhile, I went through five bags of office paper from my office, setting most of it aside for recycling. Man, I put a LOT of work into preparing for all those classes! Some of it I'd forgotten about, like the grammar quiz for my seventh graders at Frankfort Middle School, which must have been around Halloween, because all the sentences had to do with vampires, ghosts, bats, wolfman, etc. And questions about the movie Moby Dick, the version starring Patrick Stewart, that I showed my 11th graders at Keyser High School. I loved that movie. And all the vocabulary and quotes and discussion points about The Red Badge of Courage and Things Fall Apart... It was hard to throw it all away. (In fact, I saved some. ;) )

So I ended up with five cloth bags, each half full, of office paper for recycling. On my way to the recycling center, I decided to pick up some trash along Mosser Road on the hill near 219. There wasn't a whole lot there, for a change, but I did get a plastic grocery bag full of trash between the bottom and top of the hill. But then I thought to look at the bottom of the hill below the guard rail, and OMG---another motherlode of trash, and it's all so close to the lake!!! It was horrible! And of course it's been collecting there for years, way down in a grassy wasteland, out of sight from the road. Walking down the hill in the grass, I could HEAR plastic bottles crunching under my weight, out of sight beneath the matted grass. I filled four more bags full, but I'm going to have to go back another day.

We should all be ashamed. This area I'm talking about has a little stream down to the lake and is a prime duck nesting habitat, right next to a quiet part of the lake, with bushes and privacy, although it's in sight of Funland. Perhaps the most insidious trash was pieces of broken styrofoam coolers, little chunks of them here and there in the grass. They come apart into tinier bits, little orbs of styrofoam about the size of a capital "O" on this page. I'm sure such bits look like food to some birds and animals, and they float forever...

I'm definitely going back there soon with bigger trash bags. I wonder how many tributaries into the lake are like this one?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day Two of The Trash Wars

I went out today from 3-6 p.m. along various parts of Sang Run Road and Sang Run itself. There was plenty to be picked up. This time I got more recyclables, and I've discovered something really stinky: old milk bottles. Yuck! Someone is a repeat offender along Sang Run Road, throwing out pint-sized milk bottles. I had to air out my collection bins when I got back home.

Part of the trash problem may have to do with drinking and driving. People don't want to be caught with open or empty beer bottles or cans in their vehicles, so they toss them out. That's probably 90% of the glass and aluminum that I collect. I even used stepping stones to get one beer can in midstream right behind the old election building. Gross! And I'm proud to say I stopped a good bit of plastic from getting to the Gulf of Mexico today.

Down one bank near the intersection of Sang Run and Hoyes Sang Run Road, I hit a motherlode of tossed bottles and--I was startled to see---deer skulls and bones, some partly in old feed bags, thrown there by hunters. I didn't collect these. I've also seen this under the powerlines near my house, and the bones stick to the bags. They're not made of burlap these days, but some kind of plastic--of course. :( There was also a tire, and they no longer have tire amnesty days at the fairgrounds. I called and they said they can't afford to do that this year, so it's $3 a tire to toss them in the landfill! I'm sure that will lead to more dumping all over the county. Dang.

When I was at that intersection, some redneck in his gigantic, new pickup revved his engine and sprayed gravel. I took it as a comment on what I was doing. No doubt he saw it as a criticism of his way of life, and his family has been tossing trash here for generations. I'm the newcomer, the outsider, the transplant, and who am I to come in and start cleaning up after him? They don't call them "white trash" for nothing, I guess. I also guess they can't shoot me for picking up after them.

I've decided that all broken glass goes into the trash bin, not the recycling. That way I only have to handle it once. And a note to anybody following in my footsteps (and I hope there will be many): bring earplugs for when you throw the glass in the recycling trailers!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Picking Up Trash

An unlikely topic for a blog, you say? Well, think again. Like John Brown's prophetic oath, I am devoting the rest of my life to picking up trash. Litter. You know, the junk on the sides of the roads and rivers.

I love walking along country roads and along rivers, and I do it a lot anyways, so why not bring a bag along and pick up ignorant people's trash while I walk? It's such a simple concept, I don't know why everyone isn't doing it!

So why am I picking up trash?

*****For the animals, so they don't eat it or get caught in it. Those cigarette butts look like mighty tasty, fat grubs.

*****For the exercise and vitamin D. It really is exercise! Why walk and pump and stretch in one place inside a smelly gym, when you could be out in the beautiful day, wandering around like John Muir, and helping mother earth at the same time?

*****So it doesn't get washed into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean, where the sunlight breaks down the plastic into bits that float below the surface, looking for all the world like tasty, nutritious krill, fish, plankton, etc., that MORE animals eat and feed to their young, who all starve to death, their stomachs full of Bic lighters and McDonald's straws.

*****Because I have trouble sleeping. I need a lot of exercise in order to even have a chance of sleeping, and I need to feel I'm doing something to help repair the poor abused earth in order to not lie there worrying about it and feel like I'm part of the problem all night.

*****To set a good example. People will see what I'm doing, and they'll hit themselves in the foreheads and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" And before you know it, there will be all sorts of people getting off their lazy butts, bending over and over and over, picking up trash. And they'll smile at the sun and the wind and each other, and say, "Hi!"

*****To recycle. A lot of the trash you see along the roads is recylable, which makes the people who threw it out of their car windows doubly damned. I'll have to update Dante's Inferno to add another layer to Hell for these folks. "Litterbug" is too touchy-feely a word.

OK, so I've just quit teaching after fifteen years of it. That was enough. I've paid my dues. Now I want to seriously walk all over my county picking up trash. I got my grades in on Sunday.

Yesterday, Monday, I went to Lowe's and bought three big trash bins with lids. (This was after much measuring of my trunk and potential bins.) Two fit in the trunk of my Toyota Echo (42 mpg!), and one sits on the back seat with a seat belt around it. One is for plastic, one for glass and aluminum, and one for trash. I also bought gloves coated with rubber. I put a small bucket on the floor of the back seat to hold my gloves and some plastic grocery bags (light weight and have handles) and some clippers for briars, in case I need them. Armed with old jeans, hiking boots, a cap with a bill, and sun glasses, I started out.

I started at the bottom of my hill, which is near a grocery store. All kinds of trash there. I picked up mainly TRASH trash, and relatively few recyclables: plastic bags, plastic straws, cardboard and styrofoam cups and lids, newspaper inserts, real estate signs, bottles, cans, about a hundred Christmas present tags (?), about a million cigarette butts, etc. At first I wasn't going to pick up the cigarette butts, but then there were so MANY of them, and I thought about how they might look like food to a bird or small mammal. So I'm glad I got them.

A man in a pickup pulling a trailer stopped and yelled out the window to thank me. I yelled back, "You're welcome." He seemed to think it all came from the grocery store, but I informed him that it's everywhere, which it is. I've been looking.

I worked up a sweat out in the sun, and although it's good exercise, like any exercise, it might be best to do it during non-peak sun hours. I'd use two bags, one for trash and one for recyclables. When one was full, I'd go back to the car and sort them into their bins. It was kind of hard to avoid getting the handles of the car dirty, even with the gloves, which are kind of a pain to keep taking off and putting on. But they're worth the effort. I should probably start carrying wet wipes, too.

When the trash bin was full, I drove to the nearest trash collection & recycling center. I explained to the attendant what I was doing, as I don't have a sticker for my car. He laughed, for some reason. (?) And he let me dump my trash bin without a sticker. The recycling is free, of course. I even recycled a couple of pieces of non-aluminum metal.

So I'm pooped and a bit done in by the sun, but boy, it looks better down the hill!