Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Commissioner McCall leads crusade to clear roadsides of litter

Someone dumped a chair in a cornfield off Airport Road. Litter and discards large and small is a growing problem. Someone dumped a chair in a cornfield off Airport Road. Litter and discards large and small is a growing problem.

Rebecca McCall is fed up with roadside trash.

The feeling seems to be in her DNA. Her fifth grade school project focused on litter. The county’s largest park, Jackson Park, is named for her grandfather, former County Commissioner Clyde Jackson. Now a county commissioner herself, McCall is on a crusade to get rid of the beer cans, fast food containers, cigarette packs, mattresses and other discards that are littering the county’s roadways at an increasing rate.
Every year at this time, during the early stages of budget-crafting for the upcoming fiscal year, commissioners traditionally take the opportunity to pick a pet project and seek support from their fellow commissioners. Sometimes the projects are big and expensive — like a new emergency services headquarters — and sometimes they’re low cost and high reward, like McCall’s idea to promote action to Keep Henderson County Beautiful.
“There’s been a tremendous increase in the amount of trash we see on the side of the road because of the Covid situation,” she said, blaming the prevalence of takeout meals over dining in among other factors. “In fact, it’s just snowballing. The intersections are especially bad. This isn’t just being talked about in Henderson County. This is being talked about statewide.”
County commissioners from across the state talked trash at a recent meeting of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners board, which McCall serves on.
“This was the No. 1 conversation in the NCACC board meeting recently,” she said. “It goes all the way from here across to the other end of our state.”
The recognition of the problem has spread to Raleigh, where legislators filed House Bill 100, a measure to focus on cleaning up the state’s roads.
At McCall’s request, Lonnie Watkins, the Mills River-based district engineer for the NCDOT, reported last month on the various state programs to pick up litter. Christine Wittmeier, the county’s environmental programs coordinator, also reported on the county’s litter prevention and code enforcement programs. It turns out, plenty of opportunities exist to clean up road shoulders and ditches. The trouble is, there’s less marketing than there could be, and during the socially distanced pandemic Adopt-a-Highway programs are seeing less participation than they used to.

Participation lags in litter pickup


The NCDOT has three programs for litter pickup in addition to Adopt-a-Highway: Sponsor a Highway, often a project of a corporation or a large civic club; contract litter removal crews the NCDOT pays; and the semiannual Litter Sweep, a statewide pickup effort. Programs locally include Clean Streams Day in May, the WNC Big Sweep in September, Spring Cleaning on the Green River and Trash Trout.
Organized in 1998, Adopt-a-Highway has 120,000 participants statewide. Henderson County has 51 active Adopt-a-Highway groups. They’re required to adopt a stretch of highway at least two miles long and must pick up trash at least four times a year. The DOT provides safety vests, gloves, grabbers and orange trash bags and picks up the bags when the volunteers are done.
Sponsor-a-Highway is a public private partnership where companies pay a private contractor to pick up litter on a stretch of highway. Statewide there are 608 stretched of sponsored highways but only four in Henderson County.
Litter Sweep usually occurs in the last two weeks of April and September.
“This is kind of an all hands on deck operation,” Watkins said. “Anybody that shows up, we will give them their supplies and they can go out and pick up litter.”
McCall asked whether participation had declined in the volunteer cleanup work.
“It has,” Watkins said. “Also the maintenance budget took a hit” because of the NCDOT’s cash crunch last year.
The N.C. Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday that is seeking volunteers to help clean up trash along roads during the Adopt-A-Highway Spring Litter Sweep April 10-24.
“In just two months, NCDOT and our partner organizations have picked up over one million pounds of litter,” David Harris, state roadside engineer, said in a news release. “We need to keep that momentum moving forward. The annual Litter Sweep is a great opportunity to get outdoors with family and friends and work alongside NCDOT to ensure North Carolina remains a beautiful place to live and work.”
During their meeting Monday night, commissioners decided that promoting existing programs would be a good start, including the Adopt-a-Highway and Sponsor-a-Highway opportunities, the April and September Litter Sweeps and the “Swat-a-Litterburg” program to report littering. McCall noted that the NCDOT has a place on its website to report trash and dead animals DOT crews will remove. She said it’s hard to find and ought to be more prominent.
Residents of the county’s five towns can expect to hear about McCall’s push to Keep Henderson County Beautiful. She plans to bring it up at the quarterly meeting of the Local Government Committee for Cooperative Action next month. And Henderson County government employees may soon be grabbing trash from road shoulders. When McCall suggested the county adopt a highway and let employees time off to pick up litter, commissioners agreed that was a good idea.
“Putting a best foot forward is important,” McCall said. “If an industry visits (to scout for allocation), it’s just not a good first impression” to have trash-filled roadsides.

* * * * *

Litter Sweep volunteers are provided with clean-up supplies such as trash bags, gloves and safety vests from local NCDOT County Maintenance Yard offices. All volunteers are encouraged to follow proper COVID-19 safety guidance. This includes wearing a mask and gloves at all times and keeping six feet apart from other volunteers. To sign up or to get more information, visit the Litter Sweep web page or call 919-707-2970.