It’s been an interesting six months since Glenn Poshard and I hosted the kickoff meeting for Clean SoIL, an anti-litter movement, at Marion’s Veterans’ Airport.
Although it may not seem like it from the outside, a lot has happened. There have been setbacks and successes. There have been breathtaking steps forward and there has been the frustrations of inertia created by working with bureaucracies and government agencies.
However, the movement took a huge step forward last week.
After nearly six months in limbo, Clean SoIL was notified of its tax exempt status. That was a significant hurdle. It will allow us to solicit donations and grants to put a structure in place to fight Southern Illinois’ long-going battle with litter.
Yet, that notification is the tip of the iceberg.
The real news is that a working agreement that had been reached with Southern Illinois University became a reality with the hiring of a pair of graduate students, Katrina Medernach and Andrew Taylor, who will work with the Clean SoIL board on a daily basis to clean up Southern Illinois, and keep it clean.
In the past six months, we have been trying to implement the goals of Clean SoIL in our spare time, juggling family responsibilities, other commitments and the aforementioned inertia. The hiring Taylor and Medernach will allow Clean SoIL to pursue its multi-faceted approach to cleaning up the region.
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From the beginning we knew that ridding Southern Illinois of litter wasn’t going to be a one-time fix. There have been clean-up efforts in the past, massive efforts, in which mountains of waste were collected, only to see our streets and roadsides defaced by soft drink containers and fast food packaging two weeks later.
For this campaign to be a success, attitudes have to change. That’s why an educational component is a centerpiece of the plan. Medernach will be working with the SIU School of Education and SIU’s Touch of Nature to build and implement a curriculum that will be provided to area schools at no charge.
Eventually, curriculum components will be created for youngsters from kindergarten to high school. The hope is that future generations will have a better grasp of the negative impacts of littering.
But, in the meantime, our roadways, parks and waterways are still need attention.
Taylor will be working with area communities, civic groups and churches, attempting to recruit volunteers for the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program. That program asks groups to police a two-mile stretch of state highway four times a year.
Currently, there are less than 50 such groups in Southern Illinois, not all of them are active. Driving Routes 13, 51, 127, 45, 34 or any of the 140s, it’s obvious there are lots of stretches of highway that need Tender Loving Care.
The Clean SoIL Board has already adopted the segment of Route 51 that runs from downtown Carbondale to the Giant City Road. Sometime later this fall or early next spring we hope to designate a Saturday in which all the Adopt-A-Highway groups sweep their section of highway.
In addition, our board will be sending a group of volunteers to Crab Orchard Lake on Sept. 18 to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with its annual clean-up. With Crab Orchard Lake down four feet because of spillway repairs, this is a unique opportunity to remove decades worth of trash from the shoreline.
If you are interested in volunteering, call 618-997-3344, Ext. 1, to let the USFWS know you are coming.
Finally, if you are a member of a civic organization, church group or moderator of a youth organization interested in adopting a highway and would like more information or have a speaker appear at your meetings, call 618-841-7862.
We can do this.
LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at email@example.com, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.