Opinion | Bruce Butler: It’s time to clean up

Bruce Butler

The start of the holiday/Christmas season should be a time for special reflection over the past year and a look toward the future. Despite our challenges in Summit County, we remain very fortunate to call one of the most beautiful places in the world “home.”

Now in my 23rd year as a Summit County resident, I admit that I sometimes look past the natural beauty of our county and get mired in my own struggles and challenges, which blurs my appreciation of all that is around me. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to regularly travel the Interstate 70 corridor between Summit County and Denver with people from all around the country and the world. Seeing Summit County and the Front Range through their eyes has been a refreshing reminder of the unique history of Summit and Clear Creek counties and how proud I am to share the natural beauty of what we enjoy every day. It has also made me very sensitive to how our section of Colorado represents itself to its many visitors.

Prior to moving to Summit County, I spent most of my life living in or near major urban areas. One uniquely Summit County event that I appreciated from the first day is Countywide Clean Up Day, usually held the third Saturday of May. It is unfortunate that turnout for county/town cleanup days have declined over the past few years, but the reason why I so appreciate the spirit of the day is that I have lived in places where people have simply given up. Graffiti abounds, and there are insurmountable piles of trash along interstates and other major thoroughfares. It has been refreshing to live in a community where people still care.

So, with an eye up toward the natural beauty of the Continental Divide, the vista driving south into Breckenridge, a spectacular sunrise over Denver and the Eastern Plains, it pains me to see the growing volumes of litter and trash strewn along I-70, the discarded bottles of urine, the trash that has been plowed into the beaver ponds in the Tenmile Canyon, the filth left behind at every pull off and scenic overlook, the dead pine trees immediately adjacent to the interstate — presumably from the spray of magnesium chloride being lifted up off the roadway surface — not to be confused with the millions of beetle kill trees that still dominate our national forest areas, and the junkyard of car parts and pieces. Moving across Jefferson County and Denver, the ever-growing number of homeless encampments and their accompanying piles of trash, the graffiti all over the buildings and aroma along pot row, and the trash all over the place at Denver International Airport are embarrassing after talking up the virtues of Summit County and Colorado.

However, the most disturbing trend I have noticed is the graffiti tag that has recently proliferated all the way along the I-70 corridor and into Summit County. I am not going to identify it because I do not want to give the perpetrators any more notoriety, but if you have not noticed this tag on overpasses, construction fences, the jersey walls overlooking I-70 on Dillon Ridge, the abandoned Arby’s in Silverthorne, etc., you have also become complacent about our surroundings. I suspect this tag may be emblematic of a more serious crime problem, as tags like this are often used to mark territory.

I trust our local law enforcement agencies are aware of the problem and are working cooperatively to identify and stop the vandals. However, citizens must be vigilant to stop the problem, property owners must be quicker to remove the graffiti, municipalities and the Colorado Department of Transportation must join the removal effort and owners of closed businesses must be held responsible for the general condition of their property.

There is no shortage of concern about the overall health of the global environment in Summit County, yet our own backyard needs help. Allowing trash and graffiti to slowly overtake our towns and county has a very corrosive effect on overall quality of life. I hope our visitors are too busy looking up to see what’s on the ground. It’s fine to think globally, but let’s all join together to clean up locally.

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