We don’t say it often enough, but Letcher County is a truly beautiful place.
Climb any mountain and look out across the waves of mountains in front of you, and it’s hard to deny that it is magnificent. People come from all over the U.S., and even the world, to hike our trails, listen to our music, and eat the delicious food cooked by our locally-owned restaurants.
Letcher County is an apple, ripe for picking, but as the saying goes, sometimes the apple needs to be polished.
One way to do that is clean up for ourselves.
In case anyone has forgotten, three major river systems begin in Letcher County – the Kentucky, the Cumberland, and the Big Sandy. No water flows into our county, it only flows out. Since the water is ours at its start, every bit of trash in it is ours, too. The litter may start in the ditches along the roads, but water eventually washes everything into the streams, and what tourist wants to see garbage in the streams or on the roadside?
We have looked at the problem, and rather than just point out shortcomings, we would like to suggest solutions.
It seems to us that access to good, reliable garbage pickup, and enforcement of existing litter laws would go a long way toward preserving the beauty of our land and water.
Letcher County has long had mandatory garbage collection and a litter warden, but over the past two years, only 20 people have been charged with criminal littering, and most of those have gone free. We can’t help but believe that if people feared a fine or being sentenced to pick up everyone else’s trash as well as their own, they would stop littering.
And we have witnessed garbage trucks spilling their loads as they travel to the Letcher County Garbage Transfer Station. The fact that the trucks are that full shows that many people in the county want their garbage disposed of properly. We suggest the county invest in automatic tarps for those trucks so sanitation workers can cover them without the risk of climbing on top of a shifting load to trash.
While we’re at it, let’s pay the sanitation workers a living wage. This a job few people would do, and those who will deserve to be rewarded.
There should also be a well-publicized telephone number that people can call when they see garbage fall from trucks and other vehicles so it can be picked up immediately.
Right now, the Letcher County Garbage Transfer Station at Millstone is open only Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is only open on Saturdays in April, when the annual spring cleanup occurs. This makes it difficult for people who work during the day to dump their large items. On top of that, the cost is $55 a ton to dump or $35 to have a county truck come to your house and haul away large items.
But what if the county were to change the hours on one Friday per month to allow for evening drop-offs, or if the station were opened half a day on Saturday or at least one full day a month?
What if there was no cost to dump for people who pay for home pick-up, and a lower cost for pick-up of large items at home?
While the county has invested in tractors for mowing, trucks for hauling, and graders for roadwork over the years, why hasn’t it invested in a street sweeper? These trucks are giant brooms and vacuum cleaners on wheels and cost around $30,000 used. One truck could clean miles of highway in a single night. Using them primarily around our largest tourist attractions would keep those sites inviting for visitors.
Finally, we come to the tourist sites themselves. Our overlooks are second to none and there are bearproof garbage cans to keep animals from strewing litter all over the mountainside. Parking and watching for an hour shows these sites are well used by people from other places and from here. But the garbage cans are often overflowing and if the lids aren’t closed, the bears drag out everything in them. County Judge/Executive Terry Adams is to be commended for emptying cans there himself at times, as well as the sanitation workers who are told to stop as they pass by on their routes, but if we are to make the county a destination for tourists, emptying cans a couple of times a week isn’t enough. We would suggest someone other than the county’s chief executive be assigned to at least check the cans and empty them if necessary every day, especially on weekends when the sites see the most use.
Tourism is showing real promise as an industry that could make Letcher County a better place not only for those who visit, but for those who live here as well. Investing in cleanliness will improve the quality of life for everyone.