Pulling a used diaper out of a tree: Is there a better way to spend a brisk winter afternoon?
That’s a snapshot of how Marilyn and Rhett Fagg are spending their well-earned retirements.
About a year and a half ago, the Faggs signed up at a Brown County Fair booth to adopt 2 miles of Greasy Creek Road.
Now they are out every few months — more frequently in the spring and fall — picking up full cans of beer, empty liquor bottles, fast food wrappers, plastic and styrofoam cups and even the odd shoe.
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Holding up a plastic soda pop bottle with some greenish liquid in it, Marilyn said they don’t open plastic bottles with liquid in them just in case they contain chemicals from methamphetamine production.
The couple don’t pick up cigarette butts. There are too many to even begin to tackle. Their hands — and trash bags — are full enough with what they do pick up.
In the course of about a mile, they filled two of the barrel-sized trash bags they are issued by the Brown County Solid Waste Management District and another trash bag they found empty along the way.
The diapers are not as unusual as a person might hope, Marilyn said. They found two that day: One wrapped up tight, the other displaying its contents.
The couple count themselves lucky. They rarely come across larger trash, such as tires or entertainment centers.
Elsewhere in the county, treating random ditches and hollers as dumps is all too common, said Phil Stephens, director of the waste management district. He’s the one who gets to run out and pick up the larger items.
Though the more heavily traveled roads seem to have the most litter, the less-traveled roads seem to be where people leave the larger items, Stephens said. That’s where he comes across bagged trash, appliances, tires and even mattresses.
By mid-December, 1,012 40- to 50-gallon trash bags had been filled just with roadside trash, Stephens said.
Volunteers like the Faggs have adopted 76 sections of road across the county. The solid waste district supplies large-volume garbage bags, gloves, safety vests and caution signs.
Volunteers have to be at least 12 years old, sign a waiver and agree to pick up trash at least four times a year, he said. The district also places signs noting who has taken responsibility for that corner of their community.
On Greasy Creek, the signs are for the Molar Express, the name the Faggs have adopted for their two-person cleanup crew. Rhett is a retired pediatric dentist.
Marilyn spotted a cup and some food wrappers on the other side of the creek. Wearing rubber boots just for this purpose, she waded in, climbing up and down the banks, carefully picking her footing in the moving water.
The Faggs propose different scenarios that might explain how some of the trash gets there, but none of them make much sense to them. Why would someone throw a candy wrapper out onto the side of the road, Rhett wonders out loud. Is it really that difficult to get it to a trash can?
As they were picking up trash that day, a woman yelled from a passing truck, “Thank you!”
That’s actually fairly common as well, Marylin said. She has even had someone stop and applaud.
The Faggs have a history of this kind of community service, they said. When they lived in Michigan City, they would take all five of their children with them to pick up litter.
They said it’s satisfying to help keep a corner of their community clean.
“It’s such a pretty drive, and I hated to see all that trash,” Rhett said.
He sees it as a simple matter of taking pride in what a person has — a lesson his parents and grandparents often reinforced.
“My grandpa dug ditches for a living, and he was dirty,” he said. “It was sewer stuff — because he didn’t have an education, that was all he could do — and he always washed himself off. My grandma said, ‘You can be clean. You can have no money, and you can be clean.’”
Individuals and groups interested in adopting a section of road can contact the Brown County Solid Waste Management District. All volunteers must be at least 12 years old.
Address: 176 Old State Road 46
Hours: Mondays to Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Application form: browncountyrecycles.org/adopt-a-road
Bags of trash collected from roadsides around Brown County in 2016
Sections of road currently adopted by local volunteers
Sections of road adopted by individuals or families
Approximate miles of gravel and paved roads in Brown County
Total number of times a year volunteers are required to pick up trash along a road they adopt