April 4, 2012

Tired of the trash

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

It does not take 20/20 vision to see the state of McKenzie County’s ditches. Food wrappers, cans, boxes, buckets, paper, small junk appliances and any other item that might end up in a landfill, has been thrown or blown from patch traffic to blanket ditches in the most unattractive jumble of discarded items.
The beauty of North Dakota’s rippling grasses and rolling hills is forced to play second fiddle when waste dominates the scene. But McKenzie County residents are not about to let a thing like litter tarnish that beauty.
Karen Holte, JoLynn Pelton and MeLissa Schroeder have had enough of talking about how bad the litter is and are doing something about it. They have begun planning “Pick Up the Patch,” an event focused on community initiative to keep the home we love in the best state possible.
“I am a big anti-litter person,” says Holte. “JoLynn, MeLissa and I decided to do something more than just talking about it.”
“Pick Up the Patch” will take place on Saturday, April 14. Sign-in is at 9 a.m. in the Watford City Elementary School parking lot with pick up running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a free supper to follow. Details on the supper will be available the day of the event.
In order to make the event more than just picking up trash, Holte, Pelton and Schroeder are stirring the pot and turning the event into a competition.
Participants will sign up in teams. Get your co-workers, friends, neighborhood block, or church together to take part. The team with the most trash collected at the end of the day will receive a prize. The more people on your team the better your chances! If you cannot find enough for a whole team, come anyway and more teams will be formed during the sign-in.
The pick up will be focused south, east and west of Watford City with the possibility of moving north if the number of teams allows. Teams are also welcome and encouraged to work around Keene and Arnegard as well.
Even though planning only started a week ago, there are already teams signed up. Megan Wirtz and Catherine Benth have their team, Ditch Witches, registered and ready to go.
“I just think this town has gotten so dirty,” says Benth. “An event like this, that’s organized, will get a good response. It’s also a good way to get a little exercise!”
Pickup trucks will drop participants off in half-mile to mile increments outside of Watford City to work their way toward town. Teams can request certain sections if there is an area they would specifically like to see cleaned. Pickup trucks will continue to roam throughout the event to pick up full trash bags and return them to the elementary school to be counted for teams’ totals. Watford City sanitation crews will be removing all collected garbage after the cleanup.
“We want this to be a statement for people to stop littering,” says Holte. “I appreciate our countryside, but now with all the production there’s litter everywhere. It doesn’t need to be that way.”
Ron Rankin, McKenzie County sheriff, has stated that his department, along with the North Dakota Highway Patrol, will be doing extra patrols to help remind traffic to be extra cautious of those working in the ditches.
“Pick Up the Patch” will have reflective clothing and garbage bags available for all participants, provided by the North Dakota Department of Transportation. But Holte recommends participants wear sunscreen, bug spray, heavy gloves and protective clothing, shoes and eyewear. No one under the age of 16 will be allowed to participate.
For those who are not yet 16 or do not feel comfortable working along the highway, there are many other ways to volunteer. Volunteers are needed to drive pickup trucks to drop off and pick up participants and their garbage bags, to help make sure collected bags are counted for the correct team, to serve at the supper or even to walk around town picking up garbage.
The community support that McKenzie County is known for is sure to show up in droves for the event, but the problem of litter also needs to be addressed at its root.
While garbage in local ditches has been a continuing problem in McKenzie County, the current boom and influx of workers has magnified the issue.
Oil and gas companies, the accompanying service companies, and population growth, while definitely bolstering the local economy, are playing a major role in the ever-growing debris filling our ditches, according to Holte. The challenge of showing pride in our beautiful country should be brought to everyone’s doorsteps.
This is an opportunity for companies to show McKenzie County and its residents that they respect the area and are making it their home as well. “Pick Up the Patch” has joined forces with the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) to contact local companies and challenge them to take part.
The NDPC runs its own “Oil Can!” campaign, designed to foster communication between the industry and local stakeholders. The timing of McKenzie County’s cleanup event coincides with a new initiative by “Oil Can!” that also focuses on picking up the patch. Alexis Brinkman, Government Relations manager for the NDPC, believes this new initiative will help to create an anti-litter culture among their members.
“We’re beginning to communicate with members about events like this one,” says Brinkman. “We want them to be aware so they can get involved. It’s really about getting oil companies and communities working together.”
More information about the NDPC’s “Oil Can!” campaign and their push to stop littering can be found on their web site at www.ndoil.org. The web site will also be highlighting McKenzie County’s “Pick Up the Patch.”
Beyond the physical effects that the cleanup will have, it is also a chance for those new to the community to meet and get to know others in the area, according to Holte.
Whatever your reason for joining the event, removing an incredible eyesore, meeting new community members or allowing your competitive juices to flow, get a group together and be ready for April 14. “Pick Up the Patch” is one small thing all of us can do to make a big difference. For more information or to register your team contact Holte or Pelton at 701-444-3661. May the best garbage pickers win!