Melanie Wilson has lived in many places across the United States and thinks the Pacific Northwest is, “by far,” the most beautiful place in the country.
However, since moving to Washougal three years ago, Wilson says she has become increasingly frustrated with what she sees as an unacceptable amount of litter piling up on local roadsides, spoiling the natural beauty of the area.
“The litter issue had bothered me personally for quite some time, to the point that I could barely walk down the road as a passenger without wanting to put my hands over my eyes. It was so depressing, really,” Wilson said.
“Then my husband and I drove most of California in February. I know Interstate 5 in California hasn’t always been beautiful and doesn’t always look good, but it was pristine when we drove it,” she added. “I thought, ‘It’s possible for a state to prioritize clean highways.’ As we drove back and entered Oregon, then Washington, the roadsides got dirtier and dirtier, and more and more depressing the further we went.
Now Wilson — the founder of the East County Citizens Alliance — is turning her frustration into action.
Wilson, along with other alliance members, launched the “Great Route 14 Trash Cleanup” in March. Since then, the group has successfully picked up and disposed of over 2,000 pounds of trash along Highway 14 in the Camas-Washougal area.
Wilson launched the East County Citizens Alliance earlier this year to “support and protect our community and public institutions through relationship-building, education, advocacy and volunteer initiatives that build positive relationships and are building a vibrant and healthy East County.”
“I went there (after I got back from California) and picked up four bags of trash,” she said. “I went back and talked to other people from ECCA, and they were like, ‘Why didn’t you tell us you were going to do this? We will do it with you. We thought we had more power to organize cleanups under the ECCA rather than myself, so we did.
A group of volunteers ventured to the edges of Highway 14 for the first time on March 5, and have returned “almost every Saturday” since to pick up trash, sort it into piles, put it in bags and take them to the Washougal transfer station. .
“I’ve learned that if we’re truly committed to a cleaner environment, at least when it comes to (Highway 14) – an important shared common space that many of us drive – then we need to take control ourselves. ourselves,” Wilson said.
So far, about 30 Camas-Washougal residents have donated their time or money — or both — to trash cleanup efforts.
“I think there’s been a real desire amongst all the volunteers to do something positive for our community, and I think we want to harness that and nurture that,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of benefits to doing this job. We not only get a cleaner environment, a place where we can be proud to live, but we get to know each other and we learn that we can make a positive difference. We don’t just wait for some bureaucrat to do something for us or some bureaucracy to make room for us. We do it ourselves.
Wilson contacted Washington State Department of Transportation officials about the possibility of the group adopting the section of Highway 14 as part of the state’s Adopt-a-Highway program. Typically, an assigned section includes 2-4 miles of roadside. WSDOT provides traffic control equipment, safety equipment, safety training, garbage bags and disposal services to volunteer groups.
“The Adopt-a-Highway program will make it easier and cheaper for us to manage this project,” Wilson said. “The ideal scenario, from everything I’ve thought about and what we’ve learned over the past two months, is that if we take more local control – either through Adopt-a-Highway or maybe to be a municipally run waste collection program like the one in Vancouver – we would be able to work more cooperatively with the WSDOT, and that would be a good thing.
Wilson said he was told the Adopt-a-Highway program had been put on “indefinite hiatus” in Clark County while the WSDOT conducted a road survey, but that the program would resume soon.