What do beer cans, pop bottles, cigarette butts, and fast-food containers have in common?
Marion resident John Mulvenon’s answer would be ditches, more specifically, Marion County ditches.
“There is trash everywhere,” he said. “It’s not like I’m shaking a finger or placing blame on anyone. I just wonder what in the world people are thinking when they are driving down the road and just pitch something out the window. Is it ‘Oh, I want my car to stay clean but I don’t care about the environment?’ Would they want their yard full of trash? I doubt it. It’s an unconscionable act.”
Mulvenon is a bus driver for Marion-Florence schools, and every time he drives his route he sees trash in ditches along K-256 heading east out of Marion and along Sunflower Rd. south of Marion.
“It’s in my face every day,” he said. “I get fed up with seeing it.”
Having been compelled to clean up ditch litter before, Mulvenon said it is difficult to walk six feet along certain county roads without finding trash, and he wants to raise environmental awareness and try to make people more conscientious.
Officials from county road and bridge department and Kansas Department of Transportation have a similar rationale to each other when it comes to litter: they typically pick up big trash items but they don’t usually collect smaller items. Each department said lack of time, funding, and workers, as well as other occupational duties, took priority over the ditch cleanliness.
“It’s frustrating for us, too,” KDOT’s public affairs manager David Greiser said. “That’s why we have the Adopt a Highway program where people can help clean up a set length of highway.”
County weed and sanitation director Bud Druse said his department collects roadside refuse when they have time.
“We pick it up especially when people call in specific complaints but it is hard to get all the little stuff,” Druse said. “We take pride in policing the area. People who come here want to look at the beautiful area. They don’t want to see trash.”
Area environmentalist Lloyd Davies of Marion agrees with Mulvenon’s assessment of county ditches.
“I don’t think people realize the amount that is there,” Davies said. “You might see cups and cans from your car but if you get and walk some roads, you’d be startled at how much there is.”
Davies heads up the annual Marion Reservoir Cleanup Day. He estimates volunteers have collected about one ton of trash per year for the past 14 years from ditches and the reservoir area.
“It adds up pretty quick, especially with tires,” he said. “Even when it’s in ditches, that trash all washes somewhere, it gets into Mud Creek, it gets in the Cottonwood, and it gets in the water and affects the wildlife. People don’t think about that when they throw trash out their windows.”
Litter can have a hazardous impact.
“Streams are my thing and litter can block them up,” Davies said. “When that happens, it can throw off an ecosystem’s equilibrium and screw things up.”
Nevertheless, his cleanup experience has given him hope for the future.
“What I have seen over and over again is that when people adopt an area to clean up, it really becomes theirs,” he said. “They take ownership and really look out for it.”
Green at heart, Mulvenon said there is nothing worse than littering a beautiful place. He thinks some people just have an “I don’t care attitude,” and is worried about the message such litterbugs could be sending to area youth and potential tourist.
“I think it says that we here in Marion County don’t give a rip,” Mulvenon said. “We are willing to promote tourism, and I want to promote Marion because that is our economic viability, we need people coming into restaurants, hotels, shops but I’m not aware of any tourists who like to visit trashy places. Go to Vail, Colorado, or Sedona, Arizona, you don’t see trash there. They pick it up.”
Disheartened by the dissipation of what he said used to be a strong environmentalist ethic in the area, he called the problem an epidemic.
“We were hippy dippies and yes, we were tree huggers,” Mulvenon said. “But we love the environment.”
Greiser said people should call (785) 823-3754 to inquire about adopting a stretch of state road.
To report litter on county roads, call Druse at (620) 381-3888.