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Column: Adopt-a-Trail can make real difference in litter fight

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IT should be obvious by now that the effort to make people stop littering is a lost cause. It appears that our only recourse is to keep cleaning up after them.

I came to a final acceptance of that last week on another walk on the section of the People Trails that runs alongside Jonathan Moore Pike.

It was the second time in a month that I came upon the bench dedicated to Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, a Columbus native who was killed in Afghanistan, and found someone had left on it the remainders of a snack, in this case a half-full soda cup from one of the fast-food restaurants farther up the road.

I did my good citizen deed and picked up the cup, carrying it for more than a mile until I came to the nearest trash can at the McDonald’s restaurant on the other side of the highway. It would be nice to have garbage cans along the trail, but absent that, we have to rely on dedicated individuals and groups that are willing to give of their time to clean up after others.

It’s not that anyone has been abdicating responsibilities in properly maintaining the trails. The Parks and Recreation Department crews regularly sweep the 44 miles of trails in the city but are limited largely to the trails themselves. The areas alongside most of the People Trails system are private property, and some landowners object to anyone else setting foot on their land.

Unfortunately that’s where most of the litter collects, especially on the Jonathan Moore Pike section, which is home to a number of fast-food restaurants. In fact, some of the worst areas for litter accumulation are directly behind some of those restaurants.

Unfortunately, the People Trail in the city’s west end is not the city’s only litter zone. There are so many, in fact, that it requires small armies of volunteers to make these areas presentable, if only for brief periods that expire with subsequent accumulations of trash.

Some of those armies are being marshaled in the coming weeks to attack a number of residential areas and portions of the People Trails. City officials are coordinating a neighborhood cleanup project this weekend that will focus on the downtown historic district and Ninth Street Park areas in conjunction with a number of volunteer groups from local businesses and organizations.

This is shaping up as far more than a policing operation. Dozens of volunteers have been canvassing affected neighborhoods in advance of the actual cleanup, asking residents if they might be in need of any assistance in cleaning their properties. Officials have been identifying particularly troublesome areas, even identifying eyesore structures that could be removed. Crews from the City Garage will be dispatched to pick up trash piles gathered from spring cleaning projects in individual households when residents notify them in advance.

Approximately 200 volunteers have committed to the cleanup effort, including teams from individual businesses.

An equally ambitious undertaking is in the works for May 12. This one is specifically related to the People Trails. The project falls under the auspices of the Columbus Park Foundation, which has brought on board Dick Boyce, AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator, who is assembling teams of workers to clean a good portion of the overall trail system.

While individuals are certainly welcome and urged to participate, the emphasis in this effort has been to recruit groups. For instance, groups assigned sections of the trail to date include teams from Cummins Inc., the Bicycle Station, IUPUC and Walmart (East).

Boyce acknowledges that the cleanup does have its limitations, particularly when it comes to areas alongside the trail that are private property.

“We have to be extremely careful in doing this because people can be sensitive about someone else coming onto their property, but in areas where there is a significant accumulation of trash, we will try to contact the property owner to see if we can work together in resolving the issue.”

The May 12 effort is a singular event. Boyce is hoping to make the cleanup of the People Trails an ongoing effort through an Adopt-a-Trail program.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “We’re asking local groups such as service clubs, churches or businesses to adopt sections of the trail by committing to clean up their designated areas at least four times a year.”

Efforts such as the cleanup projects slated for this weekend and May 12 are certainly important, but it’s programs like Adopt-a-Trail that can make a real difference.

And as far as the People Trails project is concerned, it would really help to have some permanent trash cans along the trail where the groups (and any People Trails user for that matter) can deposit the trash they collect.

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