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‘Troopers’ work to keep Carroll County clean, despite stubborn litterers, delay due to stay-at-home order

Becky Martin is the first to admit it. When she sees a piece of trash she is compelled to stop, pick it up and properly dispose of it.

“Other people can walk right by it,” she says. “But I can’t.”

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Now her personal conviction has become a growing local movement. Over a year ago, in January 2019, Martin created a Facebook group called Trash Troopers. The group, which has nearly 250 members, organizes regular trash cleanups in Carroll County and in some areas of Howard County.

As with anything deemed “nonessential,” the group’s cleanups are suspended until further notice while the state is under a stay-at-home order and a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Larry Hogan declared March 30 that Marylanders would only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work or urgent medical care, to get food or prescriptions or for other “absolutely necessary” reasons.

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However, Martin said the group will resume cleanups after the spreading threat is lessened and those restrictions are lifted — something group members seem to be excited for, she said.

It can be an eye-opening experience for those participating. “It has made me so much more aware of how much litter is along our roads,” Theresa Waskey said. “You can’t unsee it.”

A cleanup event that was held earlier this year around Freedom Elementary School and up Md. 32 north, including Johnsville Road, yielded 36 bags of trash in half of a mile. Once the bags are gathered, they are left in a designated spot for pickup by the county.

It can be grimy, hard work. But for those participating it’s well worth it. “We’re doing what we can and making a difference the best way we can,” said Martin, of Sykesville.

Martin is an avid environmentalist and a nature lover. “It was the way I was raised,” she said.

And, in fact, she was involved with litter cleanup even before starting the Facebook group. Through her pet service business, Becky’s Buddies, and in conjunction with some of her neighbors, she participated in the adopt-a-road program. She remains involved with that program but wanted to do something more. So she created Trash Troopers.

The cleanup events are attended by both the young and old. And for individuals such as Erin Timberman, one of the group’s first members, the experience offers a valuable teaching moment for her children — 10-year-old Brea and 8-year-old Brenden — who participate in cleanups with their mom. Brenden has proven to be especially adept at crawling under thorn bushes to gather hard-to-reach trash, his mother said with a smile.

“It moves on to them and future generations,” she said of caring for the environment.

“I love trees and animals,” said Brea, who is known for picking up trash in her school cafeteria. “If someone drops it and no one picks it up, I will,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

For Timberman and her children, the issue of litter hit home during a hike.

“It was Earth Day [April 22],” Timberman said. “We decided to take a hike in the area. We saw so much trash. So we went back home and got some trash bags. We filled up two trash bags in 20 minutes.”

When she got word of the Trash Troopers, she was eager to participate. “You see that there is hope,” she said of the group and its commitment to the local environment.

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But there is frustration as well. Areas where volunteers have worked hard to clean up can become littered again almost overnight. “It’s discouraging,” Martin said. “There are always going to be people who want to trash. But it doesn’t stop us, obviously, from doing it. We have to do our own part and can’t control what others do.”

Picking up litter and other people’s trash has in some way provided unique insight for those participating in the group.

“I travel home on Ridge Road, and we cleaned that up about three weeks ago [at the time],” Timberman said. “There were the same types of cans, energy drinks, as if this one person every day would empty the can and just throw it in the same exact location. And, darn it, that Monday as I was coming home from work, there was a can waiting for me. Made me so angry.”

Adding with a disheartened chuckle, “I almost want to call them out. I want to tape one of their cans to a sign that says, ‘I know what you are up to. I’m watching you.’ ”

“I think it is just a lack of respect,” Martin said of those who leave trash behind, including repeat trash offenders.

Fellow group member Nancy Prince wholeheartedly agrees.

“I think there are way too many who just don’t care,” she said. “Who don’t think twice. Who perhaps aren’t informed as to the damage the litter is doing to the earth, the environment, the streams, ocean, animals and fish. In a few more years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

But then there are others. Those who do care. “You see more and more people wanting to join the group,” Martin said, “and wanting to help and it shifts your perspective and you realize, wow, there really are people who actually care like we do. It bothers them just as much as it bothers us, and we connect that way.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average person produces 4.4 pounds of trash a day. A typical cleanup by the Trash Troopers can result in car tires, a rusted oil drum, car parts such as bumpers, old business signage left behind, baseballs, fishing rods, liquor bottles, fast-food containers and even discarded clothing including underwear.

This wasn’t always the case, Martin said.

“I came here 15 years ago,” she said. “It was really clean and with like no litter. I thought, ‘This is really nice.’ But then more and more people came. And obviously more people equals more litter. It has been sad to see.”

Timberman added, “You want that perfect aesthetic, beautiful trail where everything is perfect. And then you see a Doritos bag and it just ruins the whole experience.”

Martin said the group’s members are committed to their cause and she has been encouraged by how they have been embraced by the community. They have recruited new members just by being out and gathering trash. “They will ask what we are doing and how they can get involved,” she said.

Besides those who participate in the cleanups, there are those who help in other ways as well. The group has been glad to receive donations of latex gloves, safety vests and trash bags, all items badly needed to get the job done. They are also looking for volunteers with trucks, said Martin, who often has to transport bags of trash to the designated pickup spot in her own car. “I can only take a few at a time,” she said. “They are smelly and leak.”

And for those who cannot make it to a cleanup event — they’re held on weekends — Martin suggests they help when and where they can.

“We tell them to go out there when you can and pick up trash wherever you want,” Martin said. “You don’t need a scheduled event.”

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And that message is getting out, as group member Heather Carpenter can attest — although, of course, picking up trash in public must be put on hold during the duration of the governor’s stay-at-home order.

“I took my kids to Millard Cooper Park [earlier this year], and we saw some litter in the creek trail area,” she said. “The following week we returned with bags and gloves and managed to fill a whole bag with bottles, food containers and other items and even pulled out a seat cushion. It felt really good to help clean up.”

Much like Brea and Brenden, Carpenter’s children are taking the message to heart.

“My kids especially really got into it,” she said. “It was like a scavenger hunt as we pulled litter out of the muck in the creek."

She added, “My 5-year-old said, ‘The park must really love us now!’ I agreed.”

For those interested in learning more about Trash Troopers, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/trashtroopersmd/.

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