While the causes and long-term solutions of increased litter in Lewis County are debatable for various groups involved, they agree on one thing: volunteers can play a role in taking out the trash.
On Tuesday, the county sent out a news release asking for volunteers to participate in its Adopt-A-Road program, where groups and businesses can sponsor a strip of roadway by committing to two clean-up days per year after completing safety training by Lewis County Solid Waste Utility.
“It’s a good way for the citizens to come together and take some pride in their community,” said Solid Waste Utility Manager Rocky Lyon. “It’s an opportunity to contribute to a cleaner environment and establish stewardship of public lands.”
While the Adopt-A-Road program is not new, the release comes at a time when litter is a hot topic in the county. From Pe Ell to Packwood, an apparent rise in litter in recent years has inspired the formation of volunteer groups who pick it up.
About four years ago, Saturday mornings in Centralia became the setting for the Centralia Clean Team, founded by Centralian Steve Kopa. Since its inception, the group has had a few stalwart members, including Port of Centralia commissioner Peter Lahmann, who have continued the effort through a Facebook page.
Other communities followed suit, including with the WinVine (Winlock and Napavine) Change-Makers, the Bonnie Project in Pe Ell and the Gifford Pinchot Trash Force in east county.
In the last few weeks, the formation of a Chehalis Clean Team was announced as a partnership between the Veterans Memorial and Lewis County Historical museums and Experience Chehalis — a service organization formerly known as the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team. The team got its start through Facebook thanks to Chehalis resident Shelley Hanson, who, in her retirement, has been spending time picking up litter. She focuses mostly on the area near Interstate 5 Exit 77.
There are varying attitudes on the effects homelessness has had on the issue among the clean teams’ representatives. Hanson felt the Lewis County Gospel Mission — a Christian nonprofit in Chehalis where folks can receive clothing and food — has played a role in increasing litter near Exit 77.
“I think the Gospel Mission is encouraging the homeless to come down here. I’ve actually had homeless people tell me that,” she said, adding that she has picked up “mounds and mounds” of clothing from the area that appeared to be brand new.
In a follow-up email, Hanson added homelessness is not the sole contributor to increasing litter, just that she wanted to encourage more people to help and to bring “awareness to what is happening in Chehalis.”
Robin Pedrazzetti, leader of the WinVine Change-Makers group who also volunteers at Centralia’s Gather Church serving free meals, felt the issue of litter would exist with or without the Lewis County Gospel Mission’s efforts, which she thought were invaluable.
“The litter I’m picking up is from privileged people in houses who don't want to go to the dump,” she said.
Though their opinions may differ on the causes of litter, Pedrazzetti and Hanson ultimately have the same goal in mind with their volunteer clean-up efforts: to inspire good deeds and make their communities cleaner and safer.
Kopa said the same about the Centralia Clean Team. While the group previously worked to pick-up litter at abandoned sites where houseless folks had been staying, it recently shifted its focus to the I-5 exits. Kopa said this was important for visitors to Centralia to have a positive first impression of the area.
“It’s probably best for PR reasons that we just concentrate on what’s visible to the public,” he said.
He added the last time he counted, the Centralia group had gathered more than 70,000 pounds of trash.
The Bonnie Project in Pe Ell is another group with a similar focus. Founded in honor of Bonnie Steen Montgomery, a resident who died in 2020, the volunteer organization focuses on beautifying Pe Ell by picking up trash, assisting with yard work and other projects.
Of the same vein, the Gifford Pinchot Trash Force, headed by Packwood resident Sheryl Hall, picks up litter in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which has increased exponentially alongside a boom in recreation tourism to the east end of Lewis County.
To get involved in the Adopt-A-Road project, visit https://lewiscountywa.gov/departments/solid-waste/adopt-road-program/ or call 360-740-1451.
The Gifford Pinchot Trash Force, Chehalis Clean Team, Centralia Clean Team and WinVine Change-Makers all have public Facebook groups for anyone interested in getting involved in their efforts, which are discoverable by searching those names.
For more information on the Bonnie Project, visit https://thebonnieproject.com/.