“Are you going to pick up garbage?” my wife asked from the comfort of our bed as I finished tying my shoes.
“Yes,” I said, trying to stay quiet enough that she could fall back to sleep.
“Don’t pick up any condoms,” she warned.
No, of course not, I thought. Who knows what else I would pick up if I did.
I had already packed gloves and garbage bags in the car the night before. I poured myself a cup of coffee and slipped out the door. I was off to the Home Depot parking lot and, beside it, the path that led up to the earthworks along Zoan Church ridge.
Earlier in the week, during a Facebook LIVE event Emerging Civil War had participated in with the Civil War Trust, we’d visited the works only to discover them heaped with litter. We managed to film our segment (parts one and two), but we couldn’t show much because of all the garbage strewn about the site. I called it a “battlefield travesty” in a blog post on Friday.
But as I’d said in that post, my indignation wasn’t enough—so I was now on my way to do my part.
Fortunately, others had reacted to my post, too. A local preservation group reached out to say it had been working on trying to better protect and preserve the area. A local teacher reached out to say he’d been in contact with teachers at the nearby school, whose students seemed largely responsible for the litter, to say that there was interest in maybe adopting the site as a student project. I was so pleased at the response. It means there might be a longer-term solution.
In the meantime, trash bags in hand—gloved hand—I made my way up the path and started picking up litter.
I found plastic water bottles and soda bottles and discarded fast food containers from Wendy’s, Salsaritas, and Taco Bell—all franchises in the nearby strip mall. I found a pair of Little Ceasar’s pizza boxes, several Starbucks cups, and all sorts of random packaging for snacks: crackers, Slim Jims, cheese sticks, and more. I found a lot of straws. Smashed plasticware. A pair of men’s boxer shorts. An empty tampon applicator. Someone’s class ring on a chain.
There were far fewer beer cans than I expected—one can and one bottle, to be exact—but there were smashed bottles everywhere. Too much glass for me to pick up, actually. Too many cigarette butts, too. Someone had a particular taste for Marlboro smooth 100s.
Someone else, or maybe the same person, had gotten bored one day and had burned round holes into the screw-tip caps from a half dozen water bottles. Each cap, about the circumference of a nickel, had an even, black hole burned right through it at the center.
A snake rail fence runs along the uppermost stretch of the paved path. The last couple of segments had been kicked over so that walkers could take a shortcut down the bank. I re-stacked the fence posts, realizing even as I did so that they’d probably be kicked back over before long. Maybe they wouldn’t be. Maybe the students would surprise me.
After all, the teen I’d seen the day before walking up the trail with a Styrofoam cup from Sonic had not tossed the cup aside when he finished his drink—to his credit. I found no Sonic cup anywhere along the ridge, in fact.
One hour and two garbage bags later, I finished. There was nothing I could do about the spray-painted wayside sign, nor was there anything I could do about the discarded trash strewn about near the parking area at the bottom of the hill where’d I’d left my car. I’d only brought two bags, so I was out of room.
My thanks to all our readers who shared my disappointment, who offered words of support, who reached out to local contacts to see if there was anything anyone could do. My thanks to all our readers who take the time to pick up trash they see during their own battlefield adventures. I know how seriously so many of your take your role as battlefield stewards.
Often, when we talk about battlefield preservation, we think about financial contributions for big land purchases, but sometimes, the fight for preservation means getting into the trenches themselves, literally, where the fight is dirty.