Brown column for Oct. 23

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 21, 2005

I wiped my face on my shirt sleeve and bent over to pick up another glass bottle.

The day had dawned brisk and clear. I had put on a pair of jeans and a denim shirt, and my wife, similarly dressed, had pulled on a sweat shirt. Now, before mid-morning, we had worked up a sweat.

We, along with hundreds of other people ranging from school children to senior citizens, were doing our bit in a half-day clean-up of Lake Martin.

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How, I wondered as I surveyed the accumulation of litter before me, can people trash an area that gives them so much pleasure?

The clean-up day had been planned and promoted well in advance, and spots around the lake had been set up for volunteers to pick up litter bags and rubber gloves and to deposit the bags they had filled.

We collected our bags and gloves and headed for a boat launching area not far from our house. There’s always litter there, and we figured we could make a dent in the accumulation.

A good number of vehicles and boat trailers were already in the parking lot. I’d bet that most of them were fishing; I hope they picked up some litter along the way – or at least brought their trash back with them.

The lake is nearly four feet below its summer level, which exposes the shallows where so much litter collects. My wife started picking up trash on the shoreline, while I tackled the bottles and cans nestling in the leaves and pine straw only a few feet away from the parking area.

It has been several years since the last cleanup, and some of the debris looked as if it had been there for at least that long. It was mostly bottles and cans. The water never gets that high, and I wondered whether people brought their empties back in their boats and then tossed it out or whether they stood around drinking and talking and then flipped their empties into the brush. No matter which, I wish those who insist on being slobs would stick to cans. They don’t weigh down a bag nearly as much as bottles do.

We had badly underestimated the amount of litter that had accumulated, and soon we had three heavy bags full. We took them to the collection point and got a fresh supply.

We stumbled over driftwood and reached for cans and bottles in bushes and briars, thinking that a machete would be a handy thing to have. Muscles unaccustomed to so much stooping and bending warned that they would be sore the next day.

It wasn’t just beverage bottles and cans that we found.

There was an old tire, still on its rim – I’m told that more than 1,000 pounds of tires were collected – and a smaller tire and wheel, still attached to part of a drive shaft. There was an aluminum and vinyl chaise lounge, heavy with mud. Those things didn’t just fall out of a boat. There were empty pill bottles and old shoes. Just about anything you could imagine. Among the most difficult to collect were the plastic and Styrofoam cups that get brittle and break into many small pieces.

We accumulated our 10 bags full along 100 yards or so of a lake that has 750 miles of shoreline.

Not all of the litter along the lake comes from people with boats, but a substantial part – most I would guess – does.

Boats aren’t cheap. Look around and you see some pretty expensive toys. Many of the vehicles in the launching ramp parking lots with boat trailers behind them aren’t cheap, either.

I guess it is evidence that you don’t have to be poor to be trashy.

The clean-up was organized by the Middle Tallapoosa Clean Water Partnership, with 33 organizations and businesses serving as sponsors. Alabama Power Co. and Renew Our Rivers provide most of the supplies for the clean-up. Similar clean-ups have been held all around the state, and mountains of waste have been collected at every one of them.

There has been talk of having a clean-up a couple of times a year.

If you spend any time picking up after your fellow citizens, whether it’s along the lake shore or along the highway, it’s hard not to revise your estimate of them downward.

But if we’re going to do that, it probably would be easier if we did it more often.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at

(c)2005 William B. Brown