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Litter a growing problem in Pocahontas County

What should be a beautiful landscape in Pocahontas County is ruined by  litter. This scene could be anywhere in the county but is along a popular fishing spot on Knapps Creek near Frost. G. Hamill photo.
What should be a beautiful landscape in Pocahontas County is ruined by litter. This scene could be anywhere in the county but is along a popular fishing spot on Knapps Creek near Frost. G. Hamill photo.

It boggles the mind how anyone can intentionally degrade the natural beauty of Pocahontas County, but that’s what thousands of people do when they throw litter and dump trash into the landscape. According to local volunteer clean-up groups, the problem is getting worse.

One of those local groups consists of citizens of Stony Bottom, who gather every spring for a major clean-up effort along the Greenbrier River and Edray Road. The group fills scores of trash bags and collects dozens of tires, televisions and other large pieces of refuse. Group organizer Bob Runyon said he is “disheartened” by the large amount of trash in such a beautiful area. He doubts that litter throwers and trash dumpers will change their ways.

Local 4-H clubs pick up more trash in Pocahontas County than any other volunteer group. In 2013, 4-H’ers cleaned up Route 84 and filled 75 large garbage bags – more than any previous year. From the disgraceful appearance of Route 84 this spring, the club likely will set another record if it attempts clean-up of that area this year. Already this spring, the Deer Creek Defenders 4-H Club has picked up trash on Route 28 from Dunmore to Laurel Run Road and around Pocahontas County High School.

Some clean-up groups, like the 4-H clubs, organize under the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) Adopt-A-Highway program. Under the program, groups agree to clean-up a two-mile stretch of

Stony Bottom resident Homer Hunter volunteered with other community members to clean up litter on April 11. The group also included Eddie Turner , Sherry Turner, Travis Turner, Randy Chaffin, Anita Chaffin, George Snyder, Jennifer Snyder, Gene Wilfong, Jetta Wilfong, Brandon Wilfong, Bill Moore, Wayne Tallman, Bob Runyon, Tina Runyon, Becca Epling, Lily Epling and Cyndy Epling. Photo courtesy Bob Runyon.
Stony Bottom resident Homer Hunter volunteered with other community members to clean up litter on April 11. The group also included Eddie Turner , Sherry Turner, Travis Turner, Randy Chaffin, Anita Chaffin, George Snyder, Jennifer Snyder, Gene Wilfong, Jetta Wilfong, Brandon Wilfong, Bill Moore, Wayne Tallman, Bob Runyon, Tina Runyon, Becca Epling, Lily Epling and Cyndy Epling. Photo courtesy Bob Runyon.

highway three times a year. In exchange, the group gets a highway sign with the group’s name. Local Adopt-A-Highway groups include 4-H clubs, the Jerico Road Citizens, the Douthards Creek Residents, High Rocks Academy and Gesundheit Institute.

The DOH supports Adopt-A-Highway groups and will pick up filled garbage bags if so requested. The DOH also provides trash bags and reflective vests for the groups. A DOH spokesperson said that most groups pick up their own bags – possibly unaware that the DOH will do that for them. Groups are required to submit a report for every clean-up. According to the spokesperson, if the DOH does not receive a report for two or three years, it will remove the signage and delete the group from the program.

The DOH owns the right-of-way along state roads and, like any landowner, is responsible for clean-up of their property. The Pocahontas County DOH Headquarters relies on inmate crews from Huttonsville Correctional Center and Denmar Correctional Center to clean up local roadways. So far this spring, inmate crews have cleaned up Route 219 from Huttonsville to Crooked Fork, and Route 28 from Durbin to Huntersville. But many local roadways remain blighted with garbage.

The next mission for the inmate crews is to clean-up Route 39 from Huntersville to Marlinton. This spring, the stretch of highway, popular with fishermen, can only be described as a disgraceful eyesore. Tons of garbage, sofas and other items of furniture have been dumped along the highway which, ironically, is a National Scenic Byway.

Lily Epling, the granddaughter of Tom Epling, of Stony Bottom, helps clean up litter on April 11. A community group organized by Bob Runyon cleans up the Stony Bottom area every spring. Photo courtesy Tom Epling.
Lily Epling, the granddaughter of Tom Epling, of Stony Bottom, helps clean up litter on April 11. A community group organized by Bob Runyon cleans up the Stony Bottom area every spring. Photo courtesy Tom Epling.

Litter and illegal trash dumping are much more than an eyesore – it is a growing public financial and health problem. According to Keep America Beautiful (www.kab.org), litter clean up costs the U.S. more than an estimated $11.5 billion every year. Businesses pay $9.1 billion of clean up costs, or about 80 percent. States, cities, and counties together expend $1.3 billion on litter abatement. Litter removal is often a hidden cost within employee expenses or other projects which makes it difficult to determine the actual cost to local governments.

A 2009 study by Mid Atlantic Solid Waste Consultants revealed:
– Thirty-six percent of business development officials say that litter impacts a company’s decision to locate in a community.
– Ninety-three percent of homeowners say a littered neighborhood would decrease their assessment of a home’s value and influence their decision to purchase a property. Fifty-five percent of realtors think that litter reduces a property value by nine percent. Sixty-six percent of property appraisers would reduce a home’s value if it is in a littered area.
– Litter has an impact on tourism revenues. Nobody wants to vacation in an area with trash-lined roads.

If you litter, you are paying for it, and so are the rest of us.

The Keep America Beautiful study found that 81 percent of litter is intentional, typically occurring in places where litter has already accumulated. The remaining 19 percent of litter

A discarded sofa sits along Knapps Creek on Route 39 near Marlinton. Litter has been shown to have an impact on tourism revenue.
A discarded sofa sits along Knapps Creek on Route 39 near Marlinton. Litter has been shown to have an impact on tourism revenue.

comes from debris blowing out of the backs of pickup trucks or other types of unsecured loads. Whether intentional or accidental, all litter is preventable.

Although the vast majority of people claim to want to live in a clean environment, more than 42 percent of Americans admit to littering in the past month. The most common offenders appear to be single men aged 18 to 34.

For more information on the Adopt-A-Highway program, call 800-322-5530 or email dep.aah@wv.gov.

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