Lee volunteers to help with cleanup

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

LEESBURG -- Jim Wright, Lee County's lone Code Enforcement officer, took charge of the county's participation in the "Great American Cleanup" four years ago.

On those four days, volunteers collected just under 13,000 pounds of garbage in the county.

Not part of that massive total is debris collected during "Rivers Alive," a similar gathering at which participants pick up garbage in and on the banks of local waterways.

"Each time we have one of these, we pick up more and more garbage," Wright said. "But one of the good things I've noticed the last couple of years is that it's getting harder and harder to find trashy places.

"I'd like to think some of that has to do with the fact that we've raised awareness about keeping our community clean."

Wright expects more than 100 volunteers -- way up from the 30 who showed up at the first Great American Cleanup he headed in 2006 -- to gather at the county's Public Works department Saturday morning. They'll be assigned to work with six team leaders at various regions in the county.

Team leaders include Rick Wheeler, whose volunteers will collect refuse in the county's Century Road area; Jack Smith, Thomas Jackson and Lori McDonough, who will work with volunteers in and around Smithville; Capt. Al Schuette and Gunnery Sgt. Bill Cash, who will lead members of the Lee County High School Junior ROTC program; and Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn, who will work with volunteers within the city limits.

"It's a half day of picking up trash, and I was an obvious choice to be involved," Quinn said. "But making changes in a community like ours has to start somewhere, and I think we've been successful in changing some people's attitude.

"Last year my (7- and 5-year-old) daughters picked up trash with my wife and me on Canal Street. About a week later my 7-year-old saw a plastic bottle on that street, and she insisted that we pick it up."

In addition to the volunteers policing up sections of the county, the cities of Smithville and Leesburg will have dump trucks parked near their city halls to collect "amnesty" debris from the community.

"Folks can bring any unwanted items except hazardous materials," Wright said. "We'll collect the amnesty material in Smithville and Leesburg until the dump trucks are full. It's a good way to get rid of old appliances and furniture."

Among the thousands of pounds of unwanted trash collected over the past four Great American Cleanups, which was passed down to Wright when the county's former organizer left, have been a number of unusual -- and sometimes valuable -- items.

"We found an old Dr. Pepper drink machine once, and we found an intact toilet and bathtub in a ditch together," Wright said. "There were a lot of old couches and furniture last year, and one of the youth volunteers found $42 in cash. I don't think we'll have a problem getting him back again this year."

Volunteers will be given gloves and trash bags at the Public Works facility, and before they head out to beautify their community they'll be briefed on safety measures.

"We stress safety, big-time," Wright said.

The volunteers will return at noon for a free barbecue lunch.

"It's great seeing the involvement of the community grow each year," Wright said. "It's also huge that more and more businesses are coming around to help us out: with supplies and at the pickup sites."

Individuals or organizations interested in volunteering for Saturday's Great American Cleanup efforts in the county can get more information by calling (229) 759-6000.