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It’s not your wastebasket

Last week, Mayor Ross Aragon called a meeting to discuss an important local and global problem.

The meeting took place on Earth Day. The topic: concern about the environment. The mayor indicated in a phone conversation that he has a wide-ranging concern about damage to the environment in general (Ross was raised here, spent a great deal of his youth on a ranch in the area and, throughout his life has roamed the high country here, acquiring a deep knowledge of this place and its character). Things he has seen recently have exacerbated his worries about the state of the local environment.

In particular, trash.

“We need more awareness,” said the mayor. “This has to be an ongoing process. We need to work on this problem every day, not just on Earth Day, April 22 every year.”

With spring and the departure of snow cover, anyone in Pagosa Country with eyes and a modicum of awareness notices the trash.

Many residents of the area and, no doubt, some visitors and those just passing through, see this beautiful place not as an exquisite environment, but as a gigantic trashcan. They obviously regard their surroundings as a receptacle, there to hold whatever crap they decide to jettison as they motor down the road.

Check out the roadsides as you drive around the area; the amount of trash you see is, at times, overwhelming.

And, it is not only debris hurled from motor vehicles that clutters and damages the landscape. Until recently, people used sections of Martinez Canyon west of Pagosa springs as a dumping ground for major amounts of household trash, including appliances. There are abandoned vehicles rusting away on public property and unoccupied private properties in Archuleta County. Further, take a look at the clutter some local residents heap on their properties, many of the worst offenders with land alongside the highways that bring us our lifeblood —tourists who visit here, thinking this is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Beautiful? With derelict vehicles and trash piled next to the road? With paper trash fluttering every time the wind blows?

Where an official option exists to deal with blight, we must demand ordinances are enforced. The county has begun to enforce its nuisance ordinances. The town must step up its activities. People complain about the intrusion of government in their lives, but what is the option when some individuals do not care about the greater community and act in spite of the common good?

But, there is only so much government can and should do in these situations. At some point people must assume responsibility for their part in the problem.

What about the trash we send to the landfill? What about the need to become more aware of the amount of trash we produce and of how it is disposed. The “disposable” lifestyle so many of us find easy is, in fact, harnessing us with ever larger amounts of garbage and with an ever-greater problem when it comes to handling said garbage. Government and private industry can work hard to provide more efficient ways of dealing with our refuse and offer us more options to recycle part of our disposable goods. But, it is our personal habits that stand in the way of success. All of us need to become more thoughtful with regard to what we purchase and how we dispose of what is left. And more of us need to take to the roadsides and fields to collect the litter left there by those who think of Pagosa Country as a wastebasket. Surely, they are not going to do it.

Karl Isberg

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