Volunteers ‘sweep’ up in Woodford County

Republished from WEKU.

Big Spring Park is named for the spring beneath the Woodford County Courthouse. It feeds a creek that winds through the park behind the courthouse and leads to Glenns Creek, which passes two distilleries on its way to the Kentucky River. Travis Yearsley and his 5th-grade daughter Jillian wear chest-waders as they walk through the shallow creek. A few minutes later, Jillian shares some of their finds – cans, plastic bottles, the frighteningly realistic right leg of a baby doll – and something even yuckier:

“We found like, this whole pack of meat. It was like, it was like so bad, stinked like raw meat. Yeah, like cow meat.”

Up the hill, it’s a little after 9 a.m. on a brisk spring Saturday. Volunteers stop by a table in front of the courthouse to sign up and pick up trash bags and gloves. People like Paulette Akers, who’s on the board of Bluegrass Greensource, the nonprofit behind the annual Main Street Clean Sweeps centered around Earth Day. She works for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Water – and doesn’t like where lots of litter goes.

“If it’s on the ground, it’s in your water, because things that get washed into the storm drain don’t go to a wastewater treatment plant, they go directly to the creek. So that washes into the streams, then that washes down into the water bodies that we use for recreation. It pollutes your drinking water.”

City Councilmember Laura Dake and Woodford Chamber of Commerce CEO Emily Downey walk down North Main Street, stopping every few feet to pick up litter. Each are Clean Sweep veterans. Downey and her family live just a few blocks away.

“We have kids. And so leaving our place in a better existence than we found it is important and also bringing our kids; they usually try to come down for a little bit of this too, so they can see us doing it. And hopefully that will be generational.”

During the 2020 Main Street Clean Sweep, Downey’s husband William, a county magistrate, set an unofficial Woodford County record by picking up 868 cigarette butts downtown. He squeezed the picker trigger so many times that for days afterwards, he felt like he had carpal tunnel syndrome in each hand.

Four years later, Dake and company are on their way to a place with a colorful nickname.

“Okay, so Fireball Alley is right up here.”

“Where are we going?”

“Fireball Alley.”

“Why is it called Fireball Alley?”

“Because you always find little Fireball bottles here.”

Dake says she walks downtown on a regular basis and cares a lot about the environment and environmental issues.

“And I this is just one way that I can give back to my community and make a difference; make a noticeable difference. And I love to see the before and the after.”

Maybe the after is already here in Fireball Alley:

“What did you find there, Laura?”

“One Fireball bottle. It may be a Fireball.”

“It’s been flattened.”

“It’s been flattened. Yes, but only one, which is an improvement over the previous years.”

“You still gonna be able to call it Fireball Alley?”

I hope not.”

Back at the sign-up table, Lisa Johnson prepares to drive to one of the dozen-plus suggested clean-up sites. She’s also a city council member and another Clean Sweep vet.

“I hope that it first of all, picks up what’s here and then secondly, maybe it’s a reminder to folks that pass us that see us out there doing it, or that see the ads or see the publicity that Main Street Clean Sweep has, that it will just remind them to be more careful or to pick up when they see something.”

On this day, volunteers are on their way to picking up an estimated 420 pounds of trash in Versailles and Midway. Earth Day is two days away and Johnson makes a wish:

“It should be Earth Day every day.”

I’m John McGary in downtown Versailles.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.