Shirley Gregory of Dundalk takes pride in her home, but unwelcome visitors have sometimes thwarted efforts to keep her yard tidy.
When she and her husband had a brick patio laid, it wasn't long until the bricks were caving into the ground. Rats had burrowed in a nearby yard and dug tunnels into Gregory's property.
"I was, like, shocked — that's what a rat did," said Gregory, president of the St. Helena Community Association. "Well, more than one rat. Quite a few rats."
Gregory was one of more than 100 people who turned out Saturday morning for a community cleanup. The event was part of the "Don't Trash Our Dundalk" campaign that the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation launched this year to target rats and litter.
The idea came about in meetings where representatives of various neighborhoods discussed problems they all were facing, said Leah Bunck, community projects coordinator for the group.
"The issues that connect all of our neighborhoods were rats and trash, unfortunately," Bunck said. "It's a known issue, so it's good for us to address it. We're trying it from all different angles."
Six community associations teamed up for the Dundalk program. In recent weeks, volunteers have held other cleanup events and also gone door to door to distribute literature about recycling, proper trash disposal and ways to get rid of rodents. On April 13, the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation and the neighborhood groups will host a resource fair at the Sollers Point Multipurpose Center focused on cleaning up Dundalk.
There, residents will be able to talk to code enforcement and solid waste officials. The Conflict Resolution Center of Baltimore County will conduct a workshop teaching ways to deal with problem neighbors; some people say they struggle with neighbors who contribute to the rat problem because they don't keep their yards clean or place lids on their trash cans. A limited supply of free and discounted metal trash cans will be distributed to residents, and an autographed Ray Lewis football will be raffled off.
Infestations have been a complaint for neighborhoods across the county. Last year, the county signed a five-year contract with an exterminator to treat properties by injecting a powdered chemical into rat burrows, and thousands of residences in areas including Arbutus, Dundalk and Towson have been treated so far.
Gregory, who lives on the city side of Dundalk, said the rat problem near her home cleared up after the city treated the rat holes with poison, but she gets frequent calls from residents about rodents. She gets frustrated with those who leave trash on the sidewalks with no cans, "feeding them dinner."
"It's a huge complaint," Gregory said.
On Saturday, groups of volunteers fanned out to different sites after gathering at the St. Helena Community Center on Colgate Avenue.
"I'll be 40 in May, and I've lived here all my life," Mark Robertson said as he plucked items from the side of Dundalk Avenue with a "trash grabber" — grocery bags, a Tastykake wrapper and other litter. "And I take a lot of pride in my neighborhood."
Also working alongside Dundalk Avenue was Mary Perry of the Dun-Logan neighborhood, who said she doesn't see rats or litter as a major problem where she lives.
"It's an issue, but I wouldn't say a big problem," she said. "We're out here trying to prevent it from becoming a big problem."
She added, "We are a community with citizens who love our community. That's our goal ... keeping it a close-knit community."
If you go
The Dundalk Renaissance Corporation and neighborhood groups will host a resource fair from for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at the Sollers Point Multipurpose Center, 323 Sollers Point Road. For more information, visit dundalkusa.org