DURANGO, Colo. (AP) – When Janet Reichl was a little girl, her father used to say it’s just as easy to pick something up as it is to walk over it. As a Girl Scout, she was taught to leave her campsite cleaner than when she found it. And as a young woman, she was saddened when a friend lost her husband after a piece of trash flew through the windshield and hit him in the head.
It’s not always easy to explain why people do what they do, but these events help explain why Reichl has picked up trash ever since she retired and moved to Durango 20 years ago.
“I would be very happy if I could go for a walk and not feel compelled to have so much stuff to pick up,” she said. “If everybody picked up just a little bit, it would be pretty nice.”
Reichl, 67, has “adopted” two sections of road to keep clean near northeast Durango: a 1½-mile stretch of East Animas Road (County Road 250) near north city limits, and a half-mile stretch of East 32nd Street.
But she covers a lot more ground. She also collects trash along the trails leading to Fort Lewis College, several properties around north City Market, up and down the Animas River Trail and pretty much anywhere she happens to go.
“If I pull into a parking area, say the post office or the bank, I’ll take an extra minute to clean up that one little space that I park in,” she said. “I would love it if people would pick up one piece of trash a day or pick up a few pieces on a walk or adopt a block – just kind of share the load a little bit.”
Reichl rarely leaves the house without a plastic bag and her picker-upper stick. She recycles everything she can and throws the rest into city dumpsters or trash bins that businesses have given her permission to use.
She finds certain things in abundance no matter where she goes: cans, plastic bags, scraps of paper, cigarette butts and articles of clothing.
And she finds more specific types of trash based on location:
Receipts, grocery lists, cart wipes and produce bags around north City Market.
Beer cans, bottles, cellophane wrappers and empty marijuana containers along county roads.
And random items such as an old trunk, metal helmet, Darth Vader mask and a “history of Coors cans” near the Lion’s Den and along Rim Drive.
“It’s just fascinating what you find,” Reichl said.
Not everything she finds is garbage. She has found several $20 bills, often near Star Liquors, and a $100 bill near the former recycling drop-off site at the base of Chapman Hill.
She keeps the money, figuring it’s impossible to find the owner, and it’s easily justifiable to pay for supplies such as plastic bags and her picker-upper sticks.
She finds a lot of unmatched gloves, and, for some reason, keeps them.
“I don’t why I save them,” she said. “Every once in a while I find something I can match up and use.”
She occasionally finds items of value that seem like they were lost, in which case she’ll place an ad the Herald’s lost-and-found section of the Classifieds.
Reichl moved to Durango from Wisconsin, which she remembers as being fairly clean. She was taken aback by how much trash was blowing around and tossed on the sides of roads in La Plata County.
She started picking up trash near her home just north of city limits. At first it felt a little embarrassing, like people might think she was on probation, she said. But the embarrassment faded, it proved to be good exercise, and a lot of people thanked her.
She does it an average of three days a week – more in the summer than the winter when there’s snow on the ground.
“It just makes me feel good to see it cleaned up,” Reichl said.
A few people have joined her, but they tend to lose interest. Some people seem grossed out by the idea of picking up trash, even though it’s been blasted by ultraviolet rays, she said.
“A lot of people just seem to have a great fear that they’re going to get some kind of disease from picking something up,” she said. “That surprises me.”
More than anything, residents like to thank her for what she’s doing.
“I come back to tell my husband, ‘This was a five-thank-you day,’ or ‘This was a one-thank-you day,'” she said. “Rarely do I say, ‘This was a no thank-you day.’ It keeps me going, because I know people appreciate it.”
– By SHANE BENJAMIN, The Durango Herald
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)