America the Beautiful! There is more to the beauty of the land then giant visas of the Grand Canyon, or majestic mountains. How about our own roadways? Yes, they can be beautiful. Look closely and you can see native grasses, wild flowers, numerous wildlife, such as the occasional deer, skunk, or raccoon; pheasants, rabbits, juncos in the winter, meadowlarks in the spring, and numerous other birds and animals. Who has been lucky enough to have to stop in the middle of the road to let a flock of pheasant chicks scurry into the roadside grass, or to allow a row of 2-day old baby ducks following their mother across the road to water on the other side? Roadsides provide cover for nests and homes for both bird and animal, hay for domestic use, and access to fences, utility lines, etc.
But what is that I see in the ditches—can it be? Yes, it’s trash. Pop and beer cans, cartons of all sizes, McDonalds wrappers, household garbage, old rags, someone lost their shoe(?), miscellaneous car parts, and the list goes on. Well, guess what? That’s littering—against the law here in South Dakota and subject to a $105 fine if caught plus a substantial burning charge if it’s a cigarette being tossed out the window. If a person is recognized, a license plate number turned in, or something in the garbage that can be traced to the owner, a complaint can be filed with the state’s attorney through the local law enforcement office.
While the state highway department cannot estimate the cost of litter removal, it has to impact the budget. The policing of it, the wages of maintenance people dealing with removal, the bags, the landfill charges, plus administration costs are a drain on their bank accounts. Coffers that are filled by state and local taxes and fees that all of us pay.
Here is how to help keep our public and private lands attractive and useful. Number one—don’t litter! How simple is that. (Hint: A 12-pack pop carton, opened at the end, standing upright makes a great disposable, compact wastebasket in a vehicle.) For cleanup, the state has an Adopt a Highway program where individuals or groups can maintain a portion of a road on a volunteer basis. Contact the nearest state transportation highway office for an application. They ask for trash pickup at least twice a year on a minimum two-mile stretch of road, and they will provide bags, remove filled bags, and install signs naming the group/individual responsible for the cleanup. The county has a similar program. On an individual basis, many of us walk along secondary roads, so we can carry a plastic grocery or garbage bag and pick up “stuff” along the ditches. Cans can be sold at a recycling center; other trash can be thrown in a container and taken to the landfill for a very small, if any, extra expense, or if a person has a driveway garbage pickup service, it will be absorbed in the normal utility charge. State or county maintenance workers will pick up large items. Hunters can pick up spent shells and slip them in a pocket until at home. Hikers and campers can leave no trace of their visit to the environment.
On the positive side, visitors and travelers note that South Dakota is a very clean state in comparison to some other states. A person from Texas visiting South Dakota for the first time, positively gushed about how well maintained, clean and nice our roadways are compared to Texas byways, at least the area where he was from. That makes me proud of my state, and of the people who keep it that way. We do not want or need a venue of trash, and we can all do our part to respect and protect our land to keep South Dakota admirable and all of America beautiful.