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Gateway: Litter cleanup efforts are bearing fruit
Hattie Hampton of Martinsville walks on the Dick and Willie Passage recently with her grandniece Marley Dillard, 5, of Charlotte, N.C. Gateway Streetscape’s litter cleanup efforts have targeted that trail and others. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Bulletin Staff Writer
Lizz Stanley, executive director of the Gateway Streetscape Foundation, said she believes Gateway’s cleanup efforts along local trails and waterways are bearing fruit.
For proof, she and other local conservationists hope area residents will go see for themselves this summer.
Among the foundation’s goals is the cleanup and prevention of litter in the community, especially along local trails and around the Smith River.
Stanley has been pleasantly surprised at the reduced amount of litter Gateway and its partners and volunteers have collected from the river this year, which she takes as proof that Gateway’s message is finding a following.
“What we feel is happening is we are really connecting ... people are taking more pride in the community than they were in the past,” she said.
Brian Williams, program manager of the Dan River Basin Association, said creating advocates of cleanup efforts usually is a simple matter of exposing them to the resources around them.
“If people see a resource and learn to love it, they’ll want to protect it,” he said. “The more people we see on the river, the more awareness there is.”
Tires and other large items remaining in the river and along trails — “legacy trash,” as Williams calls them — are still a problem, he said, but repeat litter is becoming less of a concern.
“We’re finding that places that were problem areas” largely stay litter free after they are cleared, he said. “Once people are given access, they take ownership and clean them up.”
Stanley also said many local parks “are staying clean” better than in previous years.
Still, there is more work to be done. She pointed to old tires as a problem that continues to need to be addressed. Gateway has “picked up an inordinate amount of tires,” she said — more than 10 tons worth between Gateway and its partners, she added. Fortunately, she added, it has partnered with Bridgestone Tires, which has a program to recycle one tire for every new tire it sells.
Stanley and a group of volunteers gathered 60 tires and other trash in an area alongside the Dick & Willie Passage in April.
One of the benefits of the trail system around the Smith River is that use of one helps stimulate interest in keeping the other clean, said Williams, who said he often collaborates with Stanley on cleanup projects and ideas.
“It’s all tied together,” he said. “If you get out and enjoy the environment, you don’t want to see a bunch of trash. Being on the river or being on the trail ... helps them appreciate the environment and see that it’s important to keep that environment clean.”
One ongoing project aims to prevent litter before it becomes a problem.
Gateway in March received a $10,000 Pick Up the Pace! (PUP) grant from the Harvest Foundation to help support its local anti-litter campaign, “Put Litter in its Place!”
Stanley said that despite the 90-day completion deadline set on the PUP grants, Harvest allowed Gateway to extend the program until September to allow it to develop a curriculum it could take to every school, from grades K through 12, in the city and county. The lessons will focus on the theme “reduce, reuse and recycle” and preach being a good steward of the environment, she said.
“We’re trying to raise their awareness,” she said. “When you reach kids young enough, the lesson is well-learned, and they become your little ambassadors.”
The grant also was used to produce printed materials and radio and television public service announcements to air on local stations about reducing litter, Stanley said. The announcements include local people talking about litter and its impact on the area’s natural resources.
“We have so many resources other (areas) would love to have ,” Stanley said, including the Smith River. “Not many counties can say they have a river 40 to 45 miles long that runs the length of it.”
Though cleanup around the trails is a continuous process, Stanley said she likes to scale back efforts in the grassy, wooded areas in the summer due to what she calls “snake season,” lest any students might get bitten.
Many trail cleanup efforts will start again in the fall, she said.
Gateway is “broadening what we’re doing” by moving cleanup efforts to streams that feed into the Smith to prevent pollution from reaching the river, Stanley said.
Also, Gateway is working on landscape projects in the area, such as pruning and adding mulch around trees at the Henry County Administration Building and “replacing problem trees” in the area, Stanley said.
Students worked with Gateway to install new potted plants around the Martinsville Speedway this spring, and Stanley added that Gateway plans to continue its efforts to improve landscaping along the U.S. 220 corridor. She said the goal is to make medians and rights-of-way easier to mow and maintain.
Also, she said Gateway plans to install 50 sponsor gardens along the U.S. 220/U.S. 58 corridor. Permits from the Virginia Department of Transportation will be required for that, but Stanley said she already has designs in mind for the gardens once the permits have been acquired and sponsors are in place. Several local businesses have inquired about them and she has some pending commitments, she said.
Williams said Wednesday that a new trail is set to be unveiled off Wells Hollow Road in Bassett. The Lauren Mountain Preserve was created from an area where illegal dumping had taken place, he said.
The trail features a bridge over a creek and has parking nearby. It officially will open soon, Williams said.