A Saturday morning spent cleaning up two miles of State Highway 133 created a variety of reactions among the participants. Some of us came away satisfied. All of us came away hot and dirty. But Betsy Offermann came away determined: "The next time I see someone litter, I'm going to make a citizen's arrest."
Once done, the results of our work were clear: 32 stuffed orange garbage bags along the road, awaiting a Monday morning pick-up. We also took back with us several boxes of aluminum cans for recycling.
Marion Stewart said the cleanup illustrated the principle that no good deed goes unpunished. "It made me mad to see all the trash in the first place. And now, three days later, I already see more garbage where we cleaned."
Intern Juniper Davis made out best among the 11 of us: Someone lost a five-dollar bill, and she found it. "I meant to spend it on a milkshake, but on the way to the store my steering began to fail and I had to buy power steering fluid instead." But she was philosophical: "It's my fault for driving a nearly 20-year-old car."
Steve Mandell was also philosophical. "At 50 miles an hour, you see countryside and cows. When you bike or walk along a road, you see more details. But when you pick up roadside garbage, you see what people eat, what they smoke, and even what they shoot up." (Steve found two syringes.) "They eat lots of candy and drink tons of beer. Bud and Coors mostly - no microbrews or premium upscale brands in this neck of the woods."
But Steve wasn't making a socioeconomic judgment: "People with money do other kinds of littering."
Greg Hanscom was most impressed by the dozens of deer carcasses and auto parts. "You get a sense of where deer cross the road." He also said that the "next time I see people in orange vests along the highway, I'm going to stop and give them cool drinks, or at least honk and wave."
Everyone had a garbage strategy. At first, most of us picked up everything, including cigarette butts. That didn't last long. Someone said, "By the end, I wasn't picking up anything smaller than the side of a car."
Finds of note: Penthouse magazine, and a scrap of paper about a wilderness Web site. Thankfully, we spotted only a very few bottles of suspicious yellow fluid. There was also one very old orange vest - just like the ones we were wearing.
Signs along the highway say the section of road, just west of Paonia, is maintained by "Friends of High Country News," but at this first cleanup the only reader who showed up was Paul Douglas of Paonia. The rest of the participants were interns and staff: Juniper Davis, Gretchen Nicholoff, Betsy Offerman, Michelle Allen, Marion Stewart, Steve Mandell, Greg Hanscom, Gabriel Ross and Ed and Betsy Marston.
The rest of the story
Four years ago, Elizabeth Manning wrote a story for High Country News that led to the ending last month of mining claims in Utah's Westwater Canyon (see opposite page).
Today, she's a reporter in Alaska for the Anchorage Daily News. But she remembers the Westwater story vividly. She had arranged to float Westwater with Skip Edwards, a former BLM employee fighting to keep the canyon wild, but her meeting with Ray Pene, one of two brothers who claimed a gold mine within the wilderness study area, was quite by chance:
"That's the strange part. Not too long after the float trip, I took the train to Los Angeles, and for some unexplainable reason, I decided to board in Thompson, a tiny outpost just across the Utah border. I still hadn't contacted the Pene brothers, but also waiting for the train was Ray Pene. I figured out who he was after overhearing his conversation.
"We sat next to each other most of the way through Utah, and he explained his side of the story. Meeting Ray Pene in the town where he and Ron (Pene, his brother) grew up helped me understand why they wanted to develop the mining claims. Mining was the life they had known, and Ron was trying to hold onto that life."
Elizabeth says the credit for clearing the mine out of Westwater goes to the activists. "But it's heartening to see how this particular story informed people and spurred others to get involved. The best way to do that, I think, is by telling the multiple sides to an issue, being fair and accurate, and writing the most compelling story you can. After that, you just hope people read your article before the newspaper becomes fish wrapper."
Greg Trainor of Grand Junction, one of the heads of Friends of Westwater, says that while Elizabeth wrote an accurate story, she's wrong about where the credit should go. "This issue only came to the forefront after her article in 1995. It mobilized an entire group of people to do something about an important place. It made the difference."
Martha Ketelle, the Forest Supervisor of the White River National Forest in Glenwood Springs, Colo., stopped by after talking with retired Forest Service employees in Grand Junction. Her White River Forest is home to many of Colorado's ski areas, including Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge. Before coming to Colorado, she ran the Six Rivers National Forest in northern California. And before that - and a sign of the changing nature of the agency - she was with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Jane Hines in Parachute, Colo., tells us that it is not methane seeps that are causing crops to fail in her neighborhood, as reported March 13 in the Roundup, "Oil wells in my backyard?" but the sheer number of drilling rigs. Hines lives in Garfield County, where as many as 16 wells per square acre are allowed.
Fax numbers continue to fool us: The Idaho Fish and Game phone number is 208/334-5159. The phone number and not the fax for Janine Blaeloch's Western Land Exchange Project is 206/325-3503.
Kathrin Day Lassila, editor of The Amicus Journal and administrator of the John B. Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism, wants to make a distinction between the Oakes Award and the fact that it's housed at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New Jersey. The Oakes Award to the Seattle Times for its stories on land exchanges was made by an independent panel of journalists, she says, and not by NRDC staff.
The Feb. 15, 1999, review of the government report, Water in the West, Challenge for the Next Century, said that copies of the voluminous report were available from the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission at no charge.
Now we hear from Peter Soeth of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (303/445-3615) that the well has run dry. Those wishing to read the report and its 22 supporting documents can see it for free on the Web at http://www.den.doi.gov/wwprac/, or you can contact the National Technical Information Service at 800/553-6847 or at www.ntis.gov. The CD-ROM is available, its Web page says, for $69. It includes the central report and supporting documents. If you're addicted to paper, the reports are also for sale a la carte, but you will have to mortgage the family mansion to buy them all.
* Ed Marston for the staff
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