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Avery County “Clean Sweep” Day this Saturday, March 20; Still Time To Pitch In and Help!

By Tim Gardner

Various groups in Avery County are collaborating to make what is generally considered to be one of the most picturesque sections in the world even prettier.

Jesse Pope, President and Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, will be hosting the “Avery County Clean Sweep,” a community-wide trash collection effort, beginning at 9:00 Saturday morning, March 20.

Pope said he is hopes to have 15 to 16 organizations coordinating efforts of volunteers to sweep through the sides of the 500 or so miles of roadways in the county to help remove trash near roadways. 

Pope said it will take a community-wide effort to complete the “Clean Sweep” project.

“We’ll be working on conducting the trash removal the in segments,” Pope noted. “We want anchor organizations or volunteer groups that will basically adopt a part, and they will help coordinate in that area. For example, Newland may be one area, and we may have one or two organizations there.”

He added that churches, civic organizations and businesses that are based in Avery County could take a special interest in helping to clean up in their area.

“The goal is to get as much of the county covered as we can. If only half of the county’s roads are cleaned up of trash, that’s a definite improvement. We’re trying to work with people in their communities, so if you’re with a church, a civic group or a business that just happens to work, play in or have other functions on one of those areas, they could take a special interest in that area,” Pope said. 

The Avery County Sheriff’s Department will also play a key role in helping “Clean Sweep.” Chief Deputy Lee Buchanan will be working with Pope to help assist volunteers as they work along the roadways. 

Another Avery leader who stressed the need for the county to help the trash situation is County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr., who many people in the county have seen on the side of the roads picking up trash himself, says that the accumulation of roadway garbage and related debris has become a regular occurrence—especially at this time of the year.

“What happens is the trash lays there all winter, and when there is a break from the snow, you then notice how bad it has become,” Barrier, Jr. said.

He added that part of the reason for the trash accumulation is due to the changes at the state level in regard to how the sides of the roadways are maintained. Two years ago, the State of North Carolina switched over from using prison labor and to hiring contractors to clean the roadways. A contractor has been scheduled to conduct litter sweeps four times from June to July, but Barrier, Jr. said that the county has not been given the dates for when those sweeps will happen.

In recent years, legislative stalemates over the state budget have only complicated roadway trash removal. Nevertheless, District 11’s Department of Transportation office is only responsible for cleaning US 321, US 221, Highways 19E, 184, 105, 194 and 181, leaving the side roads across the county up to the county and its residents or volunteers to maintain.

“It wasn’t DOT that switched, it was our senators and house of representatives who thought it would be cheaper to contract the service out,” Barrier, Jr. shared.  “Three years ago, the state took it away from the Department of Corrections, and a bid was put out. Then the people who put in bids from all over the state had the thought process that they may have bid too low and one company even went bankrupt. Currently, there’s hardly any company to bid on it and do it. Last year, state leaders blamed it on Covid and budget restraints, so we only got picked up one time last year.”

So now volunteers will do their parts in helping clean sweep the county.  Pope said trach bags, trash pickup tools, signs and related items will be provided for “Clean Sweep” volunteers.  Those volunteers will be assigned a roadway they want to clean.

Organizations, groups and individuals who would like to participate in this most worthwhile event should call Jesse Pope at the Grandfather Mountain office (828) 733-2013 or email him at: jesse@grandfather.comor  to coordinate which area of the county they would like to clean.

Groups can also sign up with the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program to help clean up year-round in the regions in which they live by logging on to ncdot.gov.

Some more info on plans for the day:

We are ready to go for Saturday’s Clean Sweep! The weather is going to cooperate and it looks like a great day to make Avery County Beautiful!

We will open the command centers from 9:00am-3:00pm on Saturday. If you are coordinating a group to clean an area of the county, please have one or two members of your team check in a command to pick up supplies and check in your team. It would be helpful if you had the team on a paper that you can leave with command so we can more quickly check you in.  The command center phone number for Saturday is 828-737-5427In the event of an emergency CALL 911. Please call the command center for any questions or concerns you have the day of the clean-up. We have staff from NCDOT and Avery County Solid Waste Management on hand to pick up large items or any dangerous items that you may encounter. Please read the second page of the report form carefully for some safety expectations. Be aware of your surroundings and careful not to impede traffic or put any member of your party in danger.

If a roadway is not safe to clean up, please note the area that needs cleaning and report it to command and we will get the professionals to take care of those areas. We will have three command stations set up in the county, addresses below, that you can check in and check out the day of the clean-up. As mentioned before, we are focusing on the secondary roads, please leave the busy main roads for the professional contractors which will be coming through our area in the coming weeks. If you are prepared and must clean up a busy stretch of road, please make sure everyone is wearing safety vests and using extreme caution when picking up trash. We have several ways of measuring success of this event, but the biggest measure of success is that everyone remains safe during the cleanup!!

You can call in to command for check out at the end of your effort, but we really want everyone to check in and check out, either by phone or in person, so we can track the effort and have an idea of who is on roads at any given time, so we can provide support needed and monitor the overall effort. Each command center will be equipped with a dumpster for you to drop trash bags. If you are not able to transport trash, note that on the attached report form upon completion of your volunteer effort. We also want to know if we need to go pick up trash bags, and from where, or if you are picking up the trash bags and delivering it to the command center. Obviously, it will be a big help if folks can take the trash to the command centers, but we are prepared to pick it up too, so either way will work.

Please fill out and return the attached report form to command when you return any items you checked out, so we can track the effort. The data from this effort will be crucial in measuring the success and identify future needs that will be helpful to the folks who will continue to clean up the county after this effort.

We have three command centers set up for you to check in and pick up materials for the clean-up. The three locations are listed below:

  1. Primary Command Center:

Located in the parking area behind the Avery County Administrative Building

Avery County Offices

175 Linville Street

Newland, NC 28657

  1. Banner Elk Command Center:

Banner Elk Town Hall Parking Area

200 Park Avenue

Banner Elk, NC 28604

  1. Green Valley Community Center:

Green Valley Park and Community Center

8728 S. US 19E Hwy

Newland, NC 28657

If you have any further questions, please direct them via e-mail to todd@grandfather.com through Friday. If you have questions on Saturday, please stop by a command center or call the command center phone number at 828-387-5427.