On Saturday morning, I connected with an enthusiastic young group tidying up a tributary of the Jones Falls that flows across the top of Druid Hill Park. Seen at right, Kim Anderson of Columbia pulls a cord entangled with leaves from the stream bed, while Jack Obermaier of Baltimore probes for other debris and Davey Rogner of Silver Spring lugs a bag-full of trash downstream.
Most of the crew cleaning the Druid Hill stream were local. But some, like Rogner, had stopped off in Baltimore to take part in Project Clean Stream as they walk across America picking up the trash that festoons our highways.
Rogner, Alexander and Jeff Chen, also of Columbia, are part of Pick Up America, a trek from Assateague Island to San Francisco Bay aimed at getting society to reduce its plastic waste. Since setting out from Assateague on March 20, the group figures it has rounded up more than 15,000 pounds of refuse - and got another 1,150 pounds out of the Jones Falls tributary.
"What we're finding is like a reflection of our society - our disposable culture," says Chen, 23. He says he got the idea for a trash walk across America after hiking in Yosemite National Park a few years ago with a friend and being disturbed by all the discarded water bottles and other trash along the trail.
They're trying to do more than beautify our highways, though. The larger aim is to raise public awareness about litter and how it's fostered by a throwaway culture of disposable packaging. As he and others fished black plastic bags from the stream, Rogner lamented the death of a bill in Annapolis that would have levied a nickel fee on all plastic merchandise bags across the state. If only he could bring the legislators down to the stream to show them where those bags end up, he said. That, and empty beer cans and bottles, foam cups and chip bags - not to mention discarded auto parts, broken mirrors and even a dead chicken in a shoebox, picked up off the highway in the heart of poultry country outside Salisbury.
Some cleanups took place out of sight of the water. In Waverly, a neighborhood shaken by two fatal shootings in the past week, accounting and finance students from Morgan State University and the University of Maryland College Park teamed up to pick up loads of trash that otherwise would wind up in storm drains, the Jones Falls and the harbor. The cleanup was organized by the tax and auditing firm KPMG, which supports student groups on both campuses.
In the picture at left, Linda Guan, a UM sophomore from Clarksburg. amd Tina Cheng, a soph from Gaithersburg, worked in tandem in a vacant lot off Greenmount.
Below, students from Morgan State gathered for a celebratory group pic after finishing their cleanup just before noon.