Spring’s gradual snowmelt has finally revealed what winter left behind, and it’s anything but pretty or fragrant.
All that was tossed, lost and buried under mounds of snow is emerging, prompting some people to hold their noses as they take to the newly passable streets and sidewalks.
“Just picked up a lawn bag full along Nine Mile Creek today,” Marilyn Murray wrote in a Facebook post. “Lots of plastic bags, candy wrappers, glass bottles, a pizza box and bags of dog poo, which makes me think some people fake it when picking up after their pet by tossing it when no one is looking.”
February’s record snowfalls kept much of the debris lost and frozen — the tennis ball the dog didn’t retrieve, the morning newspaper that got buried, a lost mitten, a dirt-encrusted ski hat, even a departed white squirrel. Andrew Kjelland posted that his iPhone X is still buried somewhere in a shaded snowbank that has yet to melt.
But in places where the mounds of snow have disappeared, crunched water bottles, fast-food bags, cigarette butts and bits of paper litter the landscape. Those repelled by it are taking matters into their own hands.
Dave Herberholz, who oversees solid waste collection and recycling for Minneapolis, said the city has gotten a surge of requests from businesses, residents and neighborhood groups for supplies to use while picking up the trash that litters boulevards, streets and parks. Through the Clean City program, residents can obtain gloves, yellow trash bags, safety vests and litter grabbers.
Other volunteers will soon take to the streets and parks during spring cleanup events sponsored by various groups and communities. For example, St. Paul will hold its annual spring cleanup April 27.
Last year, the effort attracted more than 1,500 volunteers. A few hundred who fanned out across Como Park collected enough garbage to fill a couple of pickup trucks, said Tricia Wehrle, who helps organize the annual cleanup.
In Minneapolis, about 500 volunteers collected 4,700 pounds of garbage during last year’s annual park cleanup, said Dawn Sommers, spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. This year’s cleanup will be on April 20.
“Unfortunately, public litter in the parks during the winter season gets frozen in layers of snow and ice,” Sommers said. With 180 park properties and a lot of snow piles, it takes awhile for crews to clean up the mess, she said. Litter frozen along lake shorelines and water edges is more difficult to clean up and it’s unsafe to try to remove during early spring, she added.
Kent Barnard, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, is stunned when he sees people throw cigarette butts, pop cans and other garbage from their car windows. “I want to give them the evil eye,” he said.
Some of the roadside litter, however, is unintentional, like the bumper left after cars skidded into one another or a muffler that fell off, Barnard said. Throughout the winter, highway crews remove those things and others — the mattress that slipped from a car’s roof or a load of scrap metal that fell off a semitrailer truck — that pose road hazards.
Through spring, crews and Adopt-a-Highway volunteers will trudge along roadsides and in ditches, collecting everything from hub caps to plastic sheeting blown off construction sites to the trash that people should have thrown in the garbage or a recycling bin.
“After the winter, there’s just a lot more of it,” Barnard said.
And a few surprises: One year Barnard found a small wood stove along a roadside.
“What’s sad are the cats and dogs who have been hit,” he said. “And there’s always that one shoe. How does a person lose a shoe? And then you wonder where the other shoe is.”
One person’s loss, however, can be someone else’s gain, according to Russell Boe of Lake City, Minn., who posted this on Twitter: “I found a $100 bill.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788