Like most of you, we have been appalled in recent years at the increase in litter along our roads and streams in Letcher County.
While the county’s litter problem improved greatly in the early 2000s, we have slipped backward since then, with some roadside ditches filled to capacity with fast-food litter, plastic bottles, bleach jugs, tires, and used needles. Hillside dumps have again materialized in our hollows and beside state highways. Even cemeteries aren’t safe from dumping.
Fortunately Letcher County does have a valuable resource in fighting litter. Letcher County Jailer Bert Slone, just a little over three months in office, has intensified work release programs for inmates that were already in effect when Jailer Don McCall was in office. Slone has not only been using male inmates to pick up litter, he’s now using female inmates as well. Female inmates, as of April 5, had picked up more than 1,000 bags of litter since March 1, according to jail records.
The number of bags wasn’t available for the male crew, but pictures taken by a deputy jailer show a pickup truck filled with garbage that inmates picked up in one day on Little Shepherd Trail. The men also cut trees that had fallen in the road and moved them to the side. A drive along the trail by an Eagle staff member over the weekend showed it is clean and ready for tourists.
Jailer Slone, his deputies who supervise the work crews, and the inmates, who must volunteer for the duty and must be certified by the state as suitable for work release, are to be commended for the hard work in cleaning up after people who seem to have no pride in their community.
Cleaning up the litter not only makes the county more presentable to those of us who live here and to visitors, it also gives inmates a sense of self-worth, and the opportunity to do something other than sitting idle in jail to atone for their crimes.
But while the jail’s efforts are laudable, picking up trash after it has already been thrown out is a never-ending cycle. Deputy jailers note that they can clean up an area one day, only to find it littered again a week later. Stopping that cycle requires punishing those responsible, and changing the culture of those who think it’s OK to toss their fastfood containers or household garbage out of the car.
County Judge/Executive Terry Adams has been working toward that end by putting the county litter warden back to work. The warden had been working on a garbage truck rather than policing dumps. Adams’s office is also putting pressure on those who aren’t paying their garbage bills, forcing them to pay up as the law requires, and Sheriff Mickey Stines has gone with the litter warden to confront people who won’t clean up around their homes, giving them 30 days to straighten up or be cited into court. County Attorney Jamie Hatton has committed to prosecuting those who are caught.
We applaud the efforts of all of these officials. We can only hope that the renewed focus on cleaning up the county will have a lasting effect, and won’t fall by the wayside when other issues arise. While we enjoy redbuds and dogwoods in the spring, we’d rather not have “Pamper trees” blooming along the creeks again.