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Bottles and cold medicine packaging collected along the five-mile stretch of Highway 49
Bottles and cold medicine packaging collected along a five-mile stretch of Highway 49

Cruising and Boozing: One Man’s Trash is Not Always Another Man’s Treasure

By Sharon Giacomazzi | Central Sierra Historian

AHWAHNEE — It is said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You might want to check with Linda Shepler about that old saying. Linda occasionally picks up litter at the intersection of Highway 49 and Road 600 in Ahwahnee. On a recent pickup, she was concerned by the number of empty liquor bottles she found and wondered how many she would find between here and Highway 41 in Oakhurst.

Armed with CalTrans bags, a neon vest, gloves, and a trash grabber, she set out on a five-mile stretch of Highway 49. On both sides of the road, she collected a shocking amount of discarded junk thoughtless travelers tossed out the window as well as paper products that possibly took flight from the bed of a truck(s).

The results were alarming, downright scary. Besides the usual suspects of fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, and plastic bags jettisoned out of car windows, Linda gathered 114 liquor bottles, more than three hundred beer cans and many used cold medicine packages. The most unique item was a Raytek gun device used to measure temperature. In all, she stuffed nineteen big CalTrans bags full of garbage.

Picture that…nineteen packed and bulging trash bags.

And that, folks, is very worrisome because it obviously means we are on the road with drinking or drunk drivers. There is massive research to show that driving performance and reaction time are seriously affected by alcohol. Add over the counter cold medicines and the results are amplified.

While walking along, Linda wondered what the locals thought about the litter that was not only harmful to the environment, but downright ugly. Did you know it takes glass between four hundred and one million years to decompose; aluminum cans eighty to one hundred years; plastic bottles 450 years; plastic bags ten to one thousand years.

Besides unsightly to locals, she wondered what countless travelers from other countries and states heading to Yosemite thought about Californians. The park gets nearly five million visitors annually, and the south entrance through Oakhurst is the most heavily traveled. It sends a clear message, wouldn’t you say? And it’s not only the visitors causing all the mess.

Trash that pollutes our streets, beaches and waterways cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. That’s money down the drain that could otherwise be invested in schools, better roads and open spaces.

So, how can you help? First of all, have a trash bag in your vehicle and secure items in your truck bed. Talk to your kids about littering and young adults about drinking and driving. Pick up the trash in front of your house or business. Get a friend and walk a section of road, picking up stuff as you get some exercise. Better yet, have your teenager become involved.

Perhaps an organization, club or place of worship will donate time to cleaning up our environment. The CalTrans website has information on how to adopt a section of highway and they supply the materials.

Linda summed up her experience by saying “it was very disheartening to see a new beer can, plastic bag and other discards along the road where I had picked up the day before. It is all so easily prevented.”

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