A crew of teenagers whose summer job is picking up roadside trash along U.S. 93 say they’ve been surprised by the amount of litter that accumulates daily along the busy highway.
“I was definitely shocked,” Meaghan Fisher, 17, said. “I’ve seen mattresses and chairs fly out [of open trucks], and they don’t go back to pick them up.”
Rylin Madsen, 18, said he’s picking up to 600 pounds of trash a day during an eight-hour shift.
The young seasonal employees of the Flathead County Parks and Recreation Department are heading the county’s effort this summer to keep the roadsides clean along the stretch of U.S. 93 from Eisinger Motors in Kalispell to Montana 40 near Whitefish. It’s the route that passes by the county landfill, and one of the biggest litter eyesores for the county.
The crew also tidies up the county’s green-box collection site areas as needed.
While the county has used temporary labor at times in the past for highway litter collection, the Solid Waste District began a concerted effort last year to dedicate funds toward cleanup. The district earmarked $50,000 last year and hired contracted laborers to handle the pickup.
This year the district again has allotted $50,000 for the same work.
The biggest culprit for a steady stream of litter around the landfill is unsecured loads, Flathead County Public Works Director Dave Prunty stressed.
“The Solid Waste Board and the commissioners see the need,” he said. “They feel it’s important we not trash the county… especially when we’re living off tourist dollars.
“Enforcement is a big piece of the puzzle, to get people to follow the litter laws,” Prunty said.
Clara Vandenbosch, 18, another member of the seasonal crew, echoed that sentiment.
“We live in the Last Best Place, however, we have a ‘trash can’ lifestyle headed our way,” Vandenbosch said. “And a degree of education and law enforcement is needed in order to sustain the great place we all live in.”
Fisher said that even though the crew is getting paid for the work, it’s disappointing to clean the roadsides, only to have to do it all again and retrieve just as much trash.
Madsen said he was surprised by the amount of litter embedded in the tall grass.
Prunty said it takes only one pickup to go from clean to trashy if motorists don’t secure loads.
The county’s program functions similar to the Montana Department of Transportation’s volunteer Adopt A Highway program, in which an individual or group of people sign an agreement with the state to adopt a 2-mile section of highway for two years. The agreement requires trash pickup twice a year, which generally done in the spring and fall.
Prunty said the county is seeing positive results from the young team’s efforts.
“We’re actually getting calls from people way thanks,” he said.
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or email@example.com.