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Spring in Alaska: Have a little pride, pick up some trash!

Deb Rhoades
An urban black bear at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage gets into the garbage ... Or is it lending a paw to fight litterbugs? June 2012 Courtesy Scott Fredrickson

I’m a Trash Picker, a collector of litter and a self appointed cleaner of the roadways....

When I was ten my family moved from the crowded suburbs of Camp Hill, Penn., to the majestic mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyo., fulfilling my father’s dream of living in the Wild West.

Along with fresh air and an abundance of natural beauty, he discovered that the roadways were littered with soda pop bottles, beer cans, old tires, rotten tarps and a plethora of other discards. Being a conservationist all his life, he knew something had to be done and it would start with us.

Thus began a family tradition.

Each spring Dad would park our big, blue station wagon along a stretch of road that he found most objectionable, strap on a backpack containing refreshments and trash bags, and off we’d go. My parents donned neon orange hunting vests to warn drivers of our whereabouts as traffic screamed past us at 60 miles per hour or better. Ignoring my objections, Mom insisted that I wear a red bandana on my head so that drivers might see me too. For my brother’s safety (he was 3 years old when our tradition began), she tethered us together by tying a long piece of clothesline around our waists, giving us about five feet of freedom. Mimi and Niki, our two toy poodles, always accompanied us and were under my mother’s careful supervision. While the five of us stuck to the ditches in relative safety, dad cleaned up the edges of the highway.

I don’t remember finding anything of real value, but my brother had a genuine flair for finding money; once even finding a $20 bill! Separating the aluminum from everything else, my Dad hauled bags of beer and soda cans to the local recycler, keeping those hard earned dollars in a pickle jar on his desk. It didn't take long to earn enough for our reward of hamburgers, French fries and strawberry milkshakes at the local drive-in burger joint.

Spending time outdoors as a family was high on my father's list of priorities, and he never voiced any concerns about what others may think of our strange outings. He was more interested in impressing upon us the importance of caring for and protecting our surroundings.

Now in my 50’s, I still enjoy picking up trash. After the snow melts and before everything bursts into full foliage, I head out for my usual morning walk with trash bags stuffed in my pockets and work gloves on my hands. Walking and collecting trash is good for my body and mind. I walk farther than usual, and with all the bending, stooping and squatting, I get a pretty good workout. My mind stays busy tracking down the next paper drink cup or beer can, and it’s satisfying to drive down a stretch of litter-free road.

Alaska can be a trashy place, especially with the ever-present wind. At times it feels like anything lighter than a Volkswagen could be blown into the next hemisphere. However, can’t we all be more thoughtful about battening down our personal trash receptacles and securing loads on our way to the dump?

If everyone policed a mile, a block or even ten feet of roadway in front of their residence or business, litter would not be much of a problem. As the snow melts, won’t you join me in cleaning up a little stretch of roadway? Let’s show our “pride of ownership” and collect some trash!

Deb Rhoades has lived in Auke Bay, Anchor Point, Homer and on Kodiak Island. An avid outdoor enthusiast, she enjoys photography, fishing, dog-mushing, snowshoeing, skiing and birding. Anxious to share Alaska, she often volunteers to take visitors hiking on her favorite trails or to map out "must see" scenic drives.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.