Volunteers remove 10 tons of trash from Eagle County roads | SteamboatToday.com

Volunteers remove 10 tons of trash from Eagle County roads

John LaConte/Vail Daily

The Vail Resorts Epic Promise team at the 17th annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup on Saturday.

— The first year a countywide highway cleanup effort was initiated, more than 40 tons of trash was removed from local roads.

Presently that number has been reduced to about 10 tons of trash per year, which is about how much organizers estimated was cleaned up on Saturday when nearly 1,000 volunteers participated in the 17th annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup.

The Eagle River Watershed Council puts on the event every year and says the 10 tons that’s removed on an annual basis is about what’s being accumulated every year.

“You drive up the highway, as soon as the snow melts it’s a mess,” said longtime volunteer and watershed council board member Joe Macy.

Through awareness, the Eagle River Watershed Council hopes the 10-ton figure number will be reduced. Seeing the amount of young children at the cleanup on Saturday makes Macy optimistic that can happen.

“There’s a lot of kids out here,” Macy said on Saturday. “And when their families take them out to get involved in stuff like this … it instills, hopefully, a conservation ethic that will grow as they get older.”

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Generational impact

Seeing the families brought Macy back to his own childhood. Raised in the New Jersey suburbs in the 1950s, Macy developed a sense of environmental stewardship at a young age through the influence of his father.

“My dad would never let us litter, or waste energy,” Macy said. “When we were growing up, if he walked into a room where one of us had been and the lights were on, he’d take the light bulbs out.”

At the event on Saturday, 12-year-old Alessandro Cantele helped his father volunteer. Cantele spent the morning with the Arrowhead Alpine Club, preparing enough food to feed lunch to the large group of highway cleanup participants.

“I was raised in Mexico, and the city there has a lot of trash going all over the place, and I just find it great that all these people from the county pick up trash,” he said. “I’m not out there but I at least get to help them by fueling them up and giving them a better day … They help the nature and I help them.”

Following the lunch, Cantele sorted the trash for recycling and compost. He said he learned the technique from his father, Giorgio Cantele.

“My dad has always been very good to nature, and he’s always taught us about this,” Cantele said. “He’s just a great dad overall.”

Cantele became an environmental steward at a young age, his father said.

“He took to it,” Giorgio Cantele said on Saturday. “Because when we go hiking, I always pick up trash, so he started to see me and one day he asked me ‘Why do you pick up trash, do you like it?’ No, that’s why I pick up the trash. The world cannot stand for it, we’re swamped in our own waste and we need to become aware of it.”

‘Still more out there’

The watershed council says the highway cleanup is important not simply for the beautification of the highway, but for the fact that the trash along the highway is likely to end up in the river. They would like to see the estimated annual accumulation of 10 tons reduced, but they’re happy that it would appear we’re to a point where most pre-cleanup era trash is gone.

Testimonials such as that of John McCaulley, who volunteers every year with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, show the progress that has been made. The district has been taking care of the highway 24 area from I-70 to Minturn for years.

“In years past we found a lot of big stuff,” McCaulley said Saturday. “This year is the first year that we didn’t have a lot of large items, it was mostly small items and it was a lot easier of a cleanup. “We really feel like we’re starting to see a large impact in keeping the area clean.”

But Macy says we’re not as far along as it would appear at first glance.

“There’s still more out there,” Macy said Saturday. “There’s a place I know of where the river bottom is paved with tires, still. It would take heavy equipment and a diver to pull them out.”