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America the Beautiful – or not

The view from Pikes Peak inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.””O beautiful for spacious skies … for purple mountain majesties … above the fruited plains. America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”On March 8, I began a journey from Colorado to Florida in an RV along with my dogs and cats – the road trip is worth a book. For three days and four nights, I witnessed America the Beautiful. From the purple mountains of Colorado to the fruitfully lush green plains to the sandy shorelines that guard the deep, blue sea, this country is rich and diverse in its landscape.However, I also witnessed the dethroning of that crown of good – what we know as America the Beautiful. I saw a country marred by an irresponsible brotherhood, as I witnessed “America the Littered.”From the mountains to the sea through New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, America’s roadsides, beltways and medians were dotted with trash – plastic, paper, glass – you name it.To me, litter is as unsightly to the scenery as a spaghetti sauce spill on the Mona Lisa. Trash strewn about is to Mother Nature what graffiti would be to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.It’s America’s eyesore.And it’s everywhere, starting with Falcon’s backyard. Have you seen the increasing mound of trash blowing in the wind throughout eastern El Paso County? Have you noticed the debris along Highway 24, from Falcon to Colorado Springs?Have you noticed that litter follows construction sites? Developers are not containing their trash.Apparently there are codes that require clean up on construction sites. (See Alicia Littlejohn’s article, “Trash everywhere,” this month). The county says they can’t enforce it. I don’t buy that. Let’s spend some of those tax dollars on a trash patrol team instead of salary increases for county commissioners (see Douglas Bruce’s report this month).But I can’t blame all of America’s ugly clutter on developers and construction workers. Individuals who think of the wide open spaces as their garbage can represent the majority of abusers, according to Keep America Beautiful Inc., a national organization for the prevention and reduction of litter. However, Robert Wallace, vice president of communications, said construction sites are huge contributors to America the Littered.I asked Wallace if there were any state laws that specifically cited or fined construction companies for littering. He said he didn’t think there was any U.S. law that held employers responsible for litter. Well, maybe that should change. The heck with code enforcement, let’s levy heavy fines on sites where, at the end of the day, the trash is not taken off the property or properly contained.Wallace referred to litter as America’s “visible pollution.” Well, that brown cloud is visible, too, and increasingly so with a growing population in the Springs. But people are more apt to abide by litter laws than give up their cars, so there is no excuse for the trashy side of America.Every piece of trash you see on the highways or roadsides has a human face to it, Wallace said. That human face is evidenced through the fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts, beer bottles, etc. that are lost in open space. It’s not the antelope and coyotes tossing the junk to the ground. It’s about individual human choice. And those who have no respect for the earth have no respect for themselves. I’m all for jail time for litterbugs.In the end, it’s the government’s problem. Enforcing codes and ensuring that America is litter free is a federal, state, city and county duty. Economic development corporations and city leaders must care about the environment and how the area is perceived by visitors, especially in tourist states like Colorado and Florida.Speaking of government responsibility, I traveled through New Orleans on my RV road trip. I could not believe the destruction – parts of the city remain ghost towns. It’s true – there are white FEMA trailers everywhere – parked in front of the remnants of people’s homes. The cityscape is tainted by a sea of blue tarps that protect caved-in roofs from the elements. Hurricane Katrina left the city in shambles.But what really struck me was the trash – the mounds of debris that line the streets almost seven months later. It’s like a Third World Country, and to me there is no excuse for it. We can send someone to the moon – we can transplant a face – we can spend billions of dollars on a war – and so on, but we can’t clean up – just the trash alone – in one city in six months?Wallace defended the Louisiana and federal governments. He said the amount of debris remaining in New Orleans is about 20 times the volume of litter that comes out of New York City in one year. And he said there is only so much landfill. I don’t care – get those techno-engineering minds working on solutions.Some of the solutions already in place include adopt-a-road programs – workable as long as there are enough businesses and people willing to do so. Perhaps every American city could adopt a street in New Orleans and clean it up.Maybe construction companies should be required to adopt a highway or road for trash duty prior to being approved for a development. At the very least, people should be able to report construction sites for loose trash and know that something will be done about it.Some cities and states have more aggressive litter control campaigns.There is a litter hotline in Arkansas, Wallace said. If someone is caught throwing trash out the car window, the offense can be reported along with the license number and the offender is sent a warning letter.Prisoner trash patrol programs should be beefed up. There also are plenty of people who have community service hours to complete – place them on “trash patrol.”Wallace said keeping America clean is a task that involves all of the stakeholders in a community. “You need a force of businesses, individuals, community groups and the government all working together … to build teams to rid the streets of litter,” he said. Education is the least expensive and most effective way to clean up the problem, he added.Education – yes. And it starts at home. It’s about nurturing children to develop a sense of pride in the land and to respect the earth and all its inhabitants. There is no freedom in this country without responsibility.”America, America, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”marylou@newfalconherald.com

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