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Column: Litter spoiling people’s travels along community walkways

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Columbus’ People Trails system is unquestionably one of the community’s most valuable assets.

Unfortunately, the areas around some sections of the walking/biking paths are drawing some of that value out of it. They’re also ruining what should be the experience of enjoying the outdoors within city limits.

I came across one of those areas during a recent bike ride on the section of the trail that runs alongside Jonathan Moore Pike west of town.

That trail serves to link residents living on the west side with the downtown area and the rest of the system. Since much of it runs alongside Jonathan Moore Pike, it’s impossible to escape urban life entirely, especially the traffic and the backsides of the hotel, gas stations and fast-food restaurants to the south, but the farm fields and wooded areas to the north serve as an attractive counterbalance.

It’s a popular section in that its length makes for a good workout, and the restaurants and ice cream/yogurt shops serve as a good reason to walk/bike/run that far in the first place. These days, it might be best to make that journey by looking straight ahead, especially in the area just west of the Interstate 65 interchange.

A glance to one’s left or right can give someone out for a breath of fresh air the feeling they are going through an exposed landfill. The scene is especially repulsive in a stretch behind fast-food restaurants where thousands of pieces of garbage have collected along the banks of a small stream that runs on the south side of the trail. The trash is the usual sort — plastic cups, takeout containers, paper and plastic bags, cigarette packages, napkins, etc.

I don’t know how long the garbage has been there. It would be natural to assume that more is added each day, but it’s likely been built up over several months, especially during the horrendous winter we just experienced.

The area in question does serve as a natural catch basin for items that have floated down in high water from other areas. It’s a good bet that some of them have blown into these resting places, not just from passing cars but from the dumpsters used by nearby businesses.

But some of it has undoubtedly been deposited into this makeshift landfill and other areas by people using the trail.

On my bike ride in question, I came across a take-home sack filled with half-eaten food and one of those oversize cups on the bench dedicated to Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, who was killed in Afghanistan. Farther down the trail near the landfill-like catch basin, someone had left a half-filled cup of soda in the middle of the path.

Although the area behind the fast-food restaurants is the most unattractive, litter also has found temporary homes in the farm fields and hedgerows alongside the highway.

It’s not that the mess has gone unnoticed or that good people have simply gotten tired of cleaning it up. Sheriff’s work crews have frequently staged cleanup details along the Jonathan Moore Pike section. Volunteers also have pitched in to clean up after others. Unfortunately, the mess they erase is usually replaced by another unsightly scene.

I have often wondered whether the absence of any trash cans along the trail contributes to the mess. There’s more than two miles of trail between West Hill Shopping Center and Mill Race Park, but not a trash can anywhere in sight.

Unfortunately, even if there were trash cans every hundred feet, there would likely still be a mess. I have given up on the notion that those who cause these eyesores can be shamed into mending their ways, and there is no way that work crews or volunteers can keep up with the amount of throwaway materials that constantly are used to mar the landscape.

Maybe the only recourse is to avoid looking off to the side when walking, biking or running on this section of the People Trails.

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