Northern New York is often recognized as a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We’re fortunate enough to call the Adirondack Park, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the farms and forests of the northern tier home.

World-class downhill and cross-country skiing, golf courses, camping, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and rock climbing; trails for hiking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding; tennis courts, and opportunities for outdoor and wildlife photography all contribute to the extremely appealing quality of life that many of us have come to take for granted.

And the region doesn’t just provide opportunities for the active lifestyles of those who live here, our spectacular natural settings, scenic agricultural lands, and outdoorsy communities make the region an international destination for outdoors recreation enthusiasts, as well as business and leisure tourists and sightseers, from around the world. For the benefit and enjoyment of all of us; citizens and visitors alike; we want our communities and recreational spaces to look attractive and be safe and enjoyable.

Little Tosses – Big Problems

Littering is a surefire way to make our communities unattractive and take the enjoyment out of outdoor recreational experiences.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing ruins a sweeping mountain, farmland, or lake or river view than trash and debris scattered across the landscape. It’s pollution. And it’s visually offensive. It says we don’t care about or appreciate what we have. It affects our quality of life. It represents a danger to wildlife and pets who eat or become entangled in it. And it can be unhealthy and degrade water quality. What’s more, visitors and tourists are unlikely to return to areas that are unsightly. After all, no one wants to drive on roads, walk along downtown streets, or hike on trails lined with litter.

It seems like I’m constantly picking up cans and bottles, fast food and individual- and multiple-serving paper, plastic, and Styrofoam containers and cups, fast food paper and home use plastic bags, half-used ketchup packets, candy wrappers, Styrofoam and plastic plates and utensils, empty cigarette packs and cigarette butts, broken glass, and now disposable face coverings and all kinds of, shall we say ‘casual’ litter, from the side of the road, from ditches, from out of the bushes and along tree lines, from lakes and ponds, and from swimming and fishing holes in rivers and streams.

Pure Laziness

As far as I’m concerned, littering is pure laziness. I find it incredible just how thoughtless, selfish, and irresponsible (perhaps even malicious, in certain instances?) some people can be. Evidently, it’s become part of our culture. I mean, how difficult is it to keep a trash bag in your car and toss your refuse into the garbage when you get home or reach your destination? I guess it’s just easier to toss your empty can, cup, or container of whatever out the window, or to throw it on the ground rather than carry it out of the woods or to the receptacle up the street.

Clean-Up Day

Obviously, the best way to handle the problem of littering is for each of us to take responsibility for properly disposing of our waste. Unfortunately, since that seems highly unlikely, getting involved in a grassroots, community spring-cleaning effort may be the next-best solution.

A community-based trash clean-up really goes beyond just picking up litter. A group of people working together to pick up trash can serve to raise awareness about littering; causing people to acknowledge, rather than ignore its existence. And just getting people to realize that they shouldn’t litter and that it’s okay to pick up trash can result in more people properly disposing of trash and discouraging others from littering.

When citizens and visitors see trash being cleaned up by volunteers, they’re more likely to think about and be more conscientious about littering in the future. They may even start picking up trash themselves, instead of just walking past it, or organize clean-ups in their communities. And properly disposing of unsightly and potentially unhealthy litter will help make our communities better places to live and visit.

Saranac Lake Spring Clean-Up

Litter doesn’t just disappear. Aluminum cans can last 100 years. Plastic bottles can remain in the environment pretty much forever.

Every spring, clean-up efforts by individuals, civic groups, schools, churches, and businesses are organized across the North Country. They pick a day, gather a team of volunteers, select a site, often a stretch of highway, and pick up the trash. Some top off their clean up events with food and drinks. Some have music, too. Hey! It’s a good reason to celebrate.

After dealing with the pandemic over the past year, the Village of Saranac Lake is getting ready for two spring clean-up weekends. And the Chamber of Commerce is welcoming people who want to get involved. The dates are May 7 to 9 and May 14 to 16. If you’d like to join in, call the Chamber at 518-891-1991 or email director@slareachamber.org

Richard L. Gast, Extension Program Educator II: Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; Agriculture Programs Assistant (retired); Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County. 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email franklin@cornell.edu.

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