What does it say about us as a people in this ecosystem when nearly a ton of trash is collected from either side of a two-mile trail?
It says there’s a whole hell of a lot more to go.
In the end, we collected 34 bags of trash, each weighing about 50 pounds.
That is 1,700 pounds—more than three-quarters of a ton—of trash. In seven hours. In just two miles.
“I think it is really impressive that our company, Aol, gives us the work hours to do volunteering like this,” said Melissa Treacy, regional editor for Montgomery County Patch sites. “It is important to give back to the communities that do so much for our news sites, and this is a great chance to do that. The Give 5 Program makes me proud to be a part of Patch and the Aol family.”
To say it was all “trash” is an understatement—this was refuse, rubbish, nondegradable household items, plastics, discarded trinkets and out-of-sight, out-of-mind relics.
It was vintage Coors beer cans, tons of Miller High Life cans, more than 25 pounds of Styrofoam and a completely flattened baseball.
It was a discarded—and later rescued and reclaimed—PennDOT “End Road Work” sign. It was a dishwasher rack buried under mud and rocks next to a bridge.
It was a dismantled A/C unit, a 1960s-era Hoover vacuum, an Adidas gym bag that became a new home for voles and mice, and a ripped-apart, pornographic paperback published in 1983 and part of, ironically, the “Patch Pocket” series.
At 9 a.m., the team of local editor volunteers—Ann Cornell of Perkiomen Valley Patch, Kyle Bagenstose of Upper Dublin Patch, Gerry Dungan of Upper Moreland-Willow Grove Patch, James Myers of Norristown Patch, Mischa Arnosky of Abington Patch, Leann Pettit of Lower Gwynedd-Ambler-Whitpain Patch and myself—and Treacy met at the Cracker Barrel on Chemical Road in Plymouth Meeting to kickoff our cleanup Give 5 Day.
The amount of garbage was slim in the beginning—nearly 50 or more plastic Gatorade and water bottles, Wawa plastic cups, fast food packages and candy wrappers.
Nearly 15 minutes in, Upper Dublin editor Kyle Bagenstose jumped back after being startled by a garter snake hanging around a plastic bag.
By this time, we were on the trail parallel with the Blue Route and nearing the on-ramp/off-ramp onto Ridge Pike.
It was here when the most interesting items began appearing on the ground and subsequently disappearing into our 30-gallon black trash bags.
In one spot, I found a completely soaked Dean Koontz novel “The Taking,” a bottle of Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Sauce, a Bud Light cooler bag, and half of a boy’s red and black long-sleeved shirt.
Yes, HALF a shirt, right down the middle.
Further down the trail, between the off-ramp and Florig Equipment, it got real interesting.
Aside from Upper Moreland Patch editor Gerry Dungan and myself resurrecting an off-road truck tire from its muddy grave, Norristown Patch editor James Myers found bank deposit bags, sans money.
Around here is where Bagenstose uncovered a skull of a small animal. We initially thought it was a cat, but upon our trek back to our cars, we looked at it again. It could have been a rabbit or a large rat.
As we trudged through the brush and prickers alongside the road, we tackled areas where the ratio of plastic bottles to flora was 20:1.
Lower Gwynedd-Ambler-Whitpain Patch editor Leann Pettit discovered what looked like a child’s surfboard, or a really odd ironing board.
In just a short walk, we had gathered enough car parts to build our own jalopy, including pieces of a broken windshield, an air filter that was now home to plant life, and hubcaps.
At one point, Dungan dug out what resembled a dishwasher rack from rocks and mud next to a bridge spanning a creek. Afterward, I climbed down to the creek bed and lugged a mysterious object back to the trail. Was it a radiator? But it was made out of wood … and is this rust?
As we neared the overpass of Ridge Pike, there was no fear of the troll under the bridge.
No, not Charlie Sheen’s enemies. You know, paying the toll to the troll.
Apparently, the troll was dead. And it looked like Banksy did it. At least that’s what the graffiti said on each of the four pylons: I KILLED THE TROLL.
Then, while we scraped scraps of paper and more plastic from thorny underbrush, Pettit saw something in the distance across the creek, on the other side of the bank.
There, in its familiar glory, was a PennDOT orange “End Road Work” sign.
We joked at gathering the huge structure, and then a joke became a challenge.
Abington Patch editor Mischa Arnosky and Bagenstose hauled the sign from up the hill, across the creek and onto the side of the trail.
As we rounded the corner of the trail behind Michael’s Crafts and Ashley Furniture, the remnants became more common.
Well, except for what turned out to be a huge chunk of the corner of someone’s deck.
We thought it was a coffin.
More and more plastic bottles, pieces of insulation and plastic bags. One of us found a broken Aritip camcorder with no batteries or memory card.
I found some student’s Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School homework, and an evaluation form for The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, located in Glenside.
Dungan found a discarded CD: Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.
Finally, a legitimate and worthy piece of trash!
Coincidentally, Bagenstose found a discarded Cypress Hill CD box set and a Godsmack CD.
Obviously, this is where Circuit City once stood.
I found a plastic bag graveyard around the base of a high-voltage tower. The more I dug, the more I uncovered plastic bags and plastic wrappers. It was endless.
All that was just two hours. We took a much-needed and well-deserved hour lunch before it was back to the action.
After lunch, we sprayed on the DEET and sunscreen, grabbed our sticks and bags and went to town.
Bagenstose found a sign in the brush along Ridge Pike near Alan Wood Road—we may have the answer as to why no one could find the way to Philomeno & Salamone’s Sherwood Estates.
We followed the Cross County Trail along Alan Wood Road. There wasn’t much trash along this stretch between Ashley Furniture and IKEA, except for the cut-up credit card.
Well, not really cut-up, just cut in half, long ways. We could still make out the credit card number, expiration date and security number.
No identity theft for you today, Christian Tamburr.
Things got very interesting as we passed Recycle Metals Corporation—and I’m not talking about the guy whose job it is to sweep dust off the roadway in front of the company entrance for hours and hours.
(Those corporate employees of IKEA across the street must pay a fortune in car washes).
There, in a large open field, were scattered ephemera as far as the eye could see. We couldn’t get all of it, but we got what was closest to the road.
I reached down to pick one up, and was treated to an X-rated paperback book cover.
Before we could imagine what this novel was possibly about, Pettit found an answer in a chunk of pages ripped from the book.
It certainly made for some humorous and light reading. It’s fine; we’re all adults here.
We hit the end of the trail before it crossed Brook Road and picked up our last trash items for this stretch: a half-full gallon of milk, a board of rug samples and some more Styrofoam.
We headed our way down the trail, which traversed an open field reminiscent from the final scene in the movie “Se7en.”
No box with Gwyneth Paltrow’s head, though.
There was an Adidas bag, however. Yet, when Bagenstose picked it up, we discovered it was a warm home for baby voles.
There was no epic Goonies-like discovery or Stand By Me find; the closest thing we had to a dead body was a huge mutant-looking dead rat.
We neared the fencing for the driving range from Tee’s Golf Learning Center and found some stranded golf balls and a discarded 1960s-era Hoover vacuum.
Bagenstose salvaged a dismantled and destroyed air conditioner from the woods.
We found what looked like a brick chimney, and Cornell spied a rusted riding pull-start lawnmower under some brush on the side of the road.
It was along this stretch that we found tires … and more tires … and more tires. At one point, there were four tires right near one another.
We passed under the construction for the new Route 476 and, hey, more tires.
Ooo, look, Ardmore Tire!
The group took a rest at the 1.8-mile mark and we decided to call it a day—almost.
“When we fond out that we made it to 1.8 miles, we decided to finish off the full two miles we obligated ourselves to, despite being cut-up, muddied and tired,” said Dungan. “It was great working with everyone.”
A couple more collections from the side of the road—a rusty chair and, yes, another huge tire—and we called it a day by 3:45 p.m.
"As much fun as it was to spend the morning hanging out and discovering the trail, it was disheartening to see the sheer volume of trash we managed to collect. I think littering is a much bigger problem than most of us acknowledge,” said Myers. “As quality-of-life issues go, it impacts us tremendously. It's a shame because it's a problem we could tackle by taking some personal responsibility for it.”
Cornell, who was in a very tired state by Thursday evening, was pleased that the Montco Patchers pulled together and helped out the community.
“It was hard, but rewarding, work,” Cornell said. “I'm impressed with my fellow local editors’ willingness to climb slopes, cross creeks and suffer minor injuries to get the job done. We don't see each other every day, so it's nice to have time together as a team.”
The end result wasn’t just a cleaner environment, but a commitment and dedication by the editors to their communities.
“It's also good to show our readers that we Patch editors are committed to our communities, and we embrace the opportunity to help them in myriad ways,” Cornell said.
Treacy was super proud of her team.
“We did an awesome job. It was a lot of hard work, but the trail looked great,” she said.
Driving home from the Give 5, I found myself scanning the grass on the sides of the road for litter. I know it will always be there, and I know we all block it out of our minds, but at least two miles of Montgomery County will be cleaner and more beautiful.
Thank you, Montgomery County Parks and Heritage Department and Aol.
And you’re welcome, Earth.