T

he war on litter in Jackson County is about to enter a new phase.

This county has been blessed with groups of volunteers who continually take to our byways and waterways in an effort to pick up after the thoughtlessness of others.

Students from Jackson County Early College habitually fan out to clean up roadsides. Hundreds of volunteers participate in the annual Tuck River Cleanup, an event more than three decades old that’s thought to be the largest single-day trash removal effort involving a waterway in the country. County and town public works departments do a great job on their part, and husband-and-wife team Mike and Norma Clayton are common sights in their ongoing efforts to keep county roads clean.

Now, county commissioner Gayle Woody wants to put some additional muscle behind those efforts.

Woody, partnering with the Claytons, will help launch a comprehensive anti-litter campaign in August that will feature an ad campaign followed by community engagement targeting county students and community centers.

That effort in turn will lead up to one of the bi-annual Cleaning Up the Mountains events, an initiative started by the Claytons.

The genesis of this effort began in spring when county commissioners turned their focus to the ongoing litter problem here. They unanimously backed a proposal that would:

• Have graphic-design students from Southwestern Community College design an ad campaign, complete with logo and slogan, emphasizing each individual’s responsibility to keep Jackson County litter free.

• Ask Allison Outdoor Advertising to donate billboard space for public-service announcements, and to encourage community centers in each commission district to promote the campaign.

• Aim at working with the school system and distribute information to students.

Bryson City student Emma Varian won $200 for her winning design. Commissioners, Public Works Director Chad Parker and Norma Clayton served on the selection committee. Varian’s circular logo depicts a mountain-and-river landscape with a “Keep our mountains clean and green” slogan.

Woody said she wants to get the campaign in front of local students, potentially handing out stickers to take home to their parents.

That’s a key element, because some of those parents may not realize they’re part of the problem.

For you see, here in the mountains, we love our pickup trucks. 

Woody talked with Wesley Grindstaff, a maintenance engineer for DOT’s Division 14, as one of the initial steps to planning the campaign. Grindstaff told Woody the state estimates about 60 percent of trash along roadsides comes from the backs of pickup trucks.

If enough kids talk to enough parents about that problem, it could be a major factor in reducing wind-blown trash from trucks littering the roadsides.

Woody would also like to see community centers such as those located in Qualla, Caney Fork or Savannah organize cleanups of their own. 

She suggests something of a community pride contest, with prizes or other incentives being awarded to the groups who garner the most participation.

It’s a good plan that builds on a lot of hard work.

Of course, the need for all that hard work could be negated by a little effort on the supply end of the litter problem. 

Hopefully the awareness slice of the litter plan pie will make an inroad on that front.

In the meantime, here’s to everyone who’s pitched in to help battle this problem. We encourage you to join in.