By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF COLFAX — Margaret Wolfe is on a mission.
As of April 22 — Earth Day — she had picked up 38 bags of garbage from the ditches along a five-mile stretch in the Town of Colfax.
The Town of Colfax has about 35 miles of road, so multiply that amount of garbage by the number of miles in the township, and it works out to be 263 bags.
Multiply that amount by 22 townships in Dunn County, and it works out to be 5,786 bags of trash.
If the bags weigh, for example, 20 pounds each (and that seems like it might be light), it would amount to about 60 tons of garbage strewn in the ditches of Dunn County.
It all started when Wolfe noticed garbage in the ditches along the road where she lives in the Town of Colfax.
“We started on our road, and Dale [her husband] went out to help me. And then when our road was done, well, it looked so nice. And I looked farther — and oh, look at that,” Wolfe said.
It was a case, she said, of one thing leading to another.
“It snowballed,” Wolfe said.
And as Wolfe started picking up trash along the ditches, she could hardly believe what she was finding.
“Aluminum cans, pizza boxes, whiskey bottles, vodka bottles, wine bottles, a shoe, a glove. It’s just amazing. Cigarette packages. Cigarette lighters. A pot. A pan. Dishes. Vegetable cans. Soup cans,” she said.
That’s in addition to eight tires.
And oh — yes — a computer head.
Some of the trash, Wolfe thinks, is coming from people hauling their garbage with unsecured bags so that items are flying out while they are driving.
“If you are going to the dump, secure your bags. I don’t know why else some of those things would be in the ditch,” Wolfe said.
Other trash could be coming from garbage cans that do not have secure lids, and the junk is blowing around on a windy day, she said.
But much of the trash is most likely coming from people tossing garbage out of their car windows as they are driving along.
“If you are going to buy pizza at Cenex, throw the box away at Cenex and eat your pizza. Don’t throw the box out the window … the next time you’re going to throw it out, imagine that your grandma is out there picking it up. You wouldn’t go to your grandmother’s house and throw it on the floor, would you?” Wolfe said.
“I was amazed by walking the ditches how many little streams we have out in that area. The beer cans, the pop cans, the pizza boxes, the grocery bags I have found are so near to the creeks. It just floors me … you don’t see them when you drive down the road, but when you’re walking, you see them. It might be just a little tiny stream, a foot wide, but it’s running water,” Wolfe said.
“In our area, out to the Chippewa County line, there are a lot of wetlands. I was amazed. I’ve learned a lot … you don’t see those things when you’re driving because you go by so fast. The trees. Different things that you pick out. But the number of creeks surprised me,” she said.
Along one road, a creek runs right next to the road.
“And someone threw four tires out into that running water,” Wolfe said.
According to Captain Kevin Bygd of the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, state statute 287(2)(b) addresses littering from a vehicle. Under ten gallons carries a fine of $200.50. From ten gallons to 30 gallons carries a fine of $263.50. Over 30 gallons carries a fine of $389.50.
According to Wisconsin state statute 287.81(2) “A person who does any of the following may be required to forfeit not more than $500: (a) Deposits or discharges any solid waste on or along any highway, in any waters of the state, on the ice of any waters of the state or on any other public or private property.”
Making it a mission to pick up trash along the ditches seems like it would be a daunting task — especially with what Wolfe knows now about the extent of the problem.
“I don’t know what came over me, but I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ People are probably thinking I’m crazy, but I’ve got to do this. I guess it just bothered me so much to see all the garbage,” she said.
But Wolfe is not just doing this for herself.
Her grandson, Logan, is serving in the United States Marines. He was deployed to Baghdad and recently returned to the United States.
“He was over there for seven months. I feel that if he can fight for my freedom and my country, I can clean his country. I talked to him and told him,” Wolfe said.
She now has the full support of her grandson, who thanked her for efforts and said he would help her when he comes home to visit this summer.
“It’s a project I’ve decided I’m going to do, and hopefully, other people will join me. I am hoping people will be aware of what they are doing. Think about it, think about that they are throwing it out. Where is it going to go? What is going to happen to it?” Wolfe said.
Margaret Wolfe also would like people who go out for walks with their children and their dogs to be aware.
“I see so many people walking along M. Be very careful. They should not let their kids go into the ditch. On the west side of the road, I picked up four different broken beer bottles. Jagged edges sticking straight up. If a child would be walking and playing in the ditch, or if someone has a dog with them, they could get hurt on the jagged edges,” she said.
In addition to making the roadsides look better, picking up trash has other benefits too.
“It’s great exercise, and it makes you feel good,” Wolfe said.
On one particularly busy day, Wolfe walked 20,000 steps, according to the pedometer on her watch.
If you figure there are maybe 2,000 or 2,400 steps in a mile — depending on the size of the person and the length of his or her stride — that’s going on ten miles.
“Many people will probably say they don’t have time to do it. Yes, I’ve got the time. But how many times do you walk out to your mailbox? Look in your ditch right by your mailbox. You could pick up the trash there. If people would just do that, it would make a huge difference,” Wolfe said.
Even if you do not have time to pick up trash along the road or in the ditch by your house, there are other ways to help — besides not throwing out the trash in the first place, that is.
“If you see someone who is out picking up trash, and you see the garbage bags sitting by the road, you could maybe be a good Samaritan and pick up the bag and put it by your garbage or take it to the dump,” Wolfe asked.
The Town of Colfax patrolman has picked up bags of garbage for Wolfe. Viking Disposal has taken several bags from the end of her driveway. And Ernie Sundstrom has stopped to thank Wolfe for the work she is doing and told her to go ahead and drop off the garbage bags at Sundstrom’s Dumpster.
Wolfe is really hoping that her mission to clean up will raise awareness.
While she is out on her appointed rounds, Wolfe says many people give her a “thumbs up” as they drive by.
It’s such a lovely area around Colfax with the woods and trees and streams and farm fields, and it’s a shame there is so much trash, she said.