People and nature prosper with a clean, healthy environment

The best environment, like the one where these trees are maturing, is one without human-caused debris.

The best park system is one where the natural environment is not disturbed with human-caused debris. It is discouraging that littering remains a challenge and we are sometimes contacted by concerned citizens.

It is especially bothersome for a clean freak. The importance of tidy grounds was drilled into the impressionable mind of a Moorhead State graduate whose first job was at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

During staff training, every employee, even Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, were instructed to not pass by a piece of litter. There were staff members walking around with brooms and dustpans on poles to quickly whisk away litter as small as gum wrappers. It was as if they were paid a commission for everything picked up.

A former slow pitch softball player, it was embarrassing to see the mess left after a softball tournament. So my first Recreation Director official duty (on my own) was starting at 6 a.m. on a Monday cleaning the parking lots, bleachers, dugouts and grounds around the five-field Hughes Fields complex.

Though not perfect, softball players have cleaned up their act quite a bit, much of it vigilante-style as violating teams will forfeit the following week’s games if busted. It helped that some softball players had their own children coming in the following day to play baseball.

Unfortunately, litter follows the crowds and gathering of people. Busy parks mean more people and more garbage.

Almost daily pop cans, plastic bottles and fast food sacks are picked from the swim pool and multipurpose court parking lots. To an old-timer, it seems incomprehensible how one could just open a car window and fling out garbage for somebody else to worry about.

Same goes for about any run along Dabill Drive at the Kidder Recreation Area. There is rarely a time when there is not a blue 24-ounce Keystone Light beer can in the ditch.

Sometimes certain activity groups are blamed. That is unfair. Cleanup is needed everywhere – basketball, skateboarding, baseball, playground, hockey, picnic shelters, campgrounds, etc.

At one time, we organized annual highway ditch cleanups with the sixth grade students to not only clean up around town but try to educate and impress on every student the importance of a clean city. We continue to provide garbage sacks and vests to LuAnn Zahn who graciously organizes a city-wide green sweep by school students. Thank you!

Each spring and fall we use community service workers to clean highway ditches sponsored by the Park Board. Shawn Longhenry, Lutheran Brotherhood organized a crew to clean highway ditches from McDonalds’s to the 14th Avenue corner this past spring. Each fall there are churches who clean the parks and do extra things like stain picnic tables.

Circle of Nations students cleaned Chahinkapa Park from one end to the other in May. NDSCS students volunteer to clean up park and city areas regularly. Litter pickup is usually one of the United Way’s “Day of Caring” duties. Unfortunately, it sometimes doesn’t take long for things to get messy again.

We appreciate those who understand the challenges associated with clean public grounds and offer to help. Many helping hands are best. We will provide garbage sacks, gloves and green florescent safety vests, if needed.

The littering epidemic is not restricted to Wahpeton. It is observed along park trails in Bismarck, Fargo, Minneapolis, Texas and Missouri. I’ve seen an entire Houston Zoo auditorium filled with sculptures created from plastic garbage from the shores of the Gulf Coast. It is bad for aquatic wildlife. Fields around larger cities have so many plastic sacks it looks like they were planted.

There are people who care. An 80-year-old lady regularly picked a sack full of garbage walking through the golf course, Chahinkapa Park and river trails before succumbing to health concerns. One family walked through the parks filling a white garbage pail on their way to playgrounds. There are walkers and runners who go past all the parks and mix in some environmentally friendly cleanup in addition to living an active healthy lifestyle.

Park staff regularly check the grounds and empty garbage cans. The park system has added several dog doo-doo containers along the trails that need regular check-ups. There are always better ways of doing things and we appreciate hearing where we can improve.

People and nature prosper with a clean, healthy environment. We should all consider ways we can be part of the solution, not the problem.

Wayne Beyer is the director of Wahpeton Parks and Rec.

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