AVERY COUNTY — Through the efforts of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the Avery County Sheriff’s Office and numerous local organizations, the community successfully completed a grassroots trash collection effort, also known as the Avery County Clean Sweep, on Saturday, March 20.
While the regional Department of Transportation (DOT) has yet to come out and pick up litter from primary highways, which is it is scheduled to do at the beginning of April, the recent massive volunteer effort was effective in clearing the litter off many of the side roads and back roads throughout the county.
Significant to the operation was the vast number of volunteers who either signed up beforehand or showed up that day to help. GMSF Executive Director Jesse Pope said that at least 325 volunteers dedicated their Saturday to helping clean up the county, which resulted in collection of about 1,400 bags of trash, or four bags per volunteer.
“I was overwhelmed by the response,” Pope said. “I think it’s an indication of how problematic the trash issue is, and I also think it’s a real testament to how this community can come together for a common cause. In our initial planning, we said if we could get 100 people, we would be thrilled with that, but the turnout was three times what our initial hope was. So the turnout was great.”
Many local organizations were also instrumental in making the effort a success. At least 55 community organizations volunteered their time, including the Williams YMCA, Lees-McRae College, Linville Central Rescue Squad, Eagles Nest and many other civic, religious, nonprofit and community-based organizations.
“It has amazed me how many organizations are involved in this. It is great to live in little ol’ Avery County where every single organization can work together as one within a month’s notice. This isn’t something we prepared for six months. We had this idea about a month ago, exactly,” Lee Buchanan, Chief Deputy with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, said.
In order to organize the event, the county planned it so there would be three command posts across Newland, Banner Elk and Green Valley for volunteers to sign in and pick up vests, gloves, bags and other equipment needed for the day. Solid Waste Management also provided three dumpsters, all of which were completely full by the end of the day as volunteers deposited their collected litter, as well as the occasional oddities, such as suitcases, countless tires, barrels, bathtubs, dishwashers, mufflers and other items.
Pope said that one group of volunteers even discovered a 1950s model Chevrolet Bel Air car.
“It was in a rhododendron thicket down an embankment. Who knows how long it had been there, maybe since the 1960s or 70s. It was not in good condition, pretty rusted up, but there was enough of the car there to identify what kind of car it was,” Pope said.
Junior Sluder, who has been a member of Newland Presbyterian Church for the past 60 years, said that the church partnered with Fletcher Presbyterian Church and had 37 volunteers who cleared a total of 47 miles of road and picked up 80 bags of trash.
“It was a great fellowship, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. I think it was a great service to the community by doing what we did, because the roads were just terrible. I just hope the state will get out and do their part on the main roads,” Sluder said.
Also instrumental in the effort was County Manager Phillip Barrier, Fire Marshal Paul Buchanan, Solid Waste Director Eric Foster and Chief Deputy Buchanan, who helped coordinate the availability of the command posts, Sheriff’s officers and dumpsters.
Pope said that due to the success of this initial Avery County Clean Sweep, it may become an annual event.
“We’ll meet and debrief in the next couple weeks and figure out where we go from here. It would be wonderful to figure out how to do this and make it an annual Spring-clean kind of event, perhaps twice a year. It’s a major undertaking. We would have to figure out a more sustainable way to make this a permanent effort. Right now it’s purely grassroots.”