Every morning after she drops her son off at kindergarten, Miranda Ainsworth laces up her waterproof walking shoes and gets to work, cleaning up after Hermiston’s litterbugs.
On Wednesday she was wading through waist-deep grass alongside Highway 207 on the south edge of town, using a plastic trash-grabbing claw to pull empty beer cans and plastic bags from the weeds. So far this month, Ainsworth said she has picked up 23 kitchen-sized garbage bags full trash. Last month she filled 49 bags.
Ainsworth isn’t paid for her work, and her community service isn’t court-ordered. She’s just an average citizen who decided that she could be putting her morning walks to better use.
“I try and do my part to help around the community,” she said.
Ainsworth said she started a few years ago in Kent, Washington, before continuing the practice when she moved to Hermiston in February. She said she has always noticed litter in parks and along roadways, and it bothers her.
“It speaks a lot about the community,” she said.
First she started bringing along the plastic grocery bags so she could grab a few things along the way, but after she ran out of grocery bags she switched to larger garbage bags and started getting more serious about planning her walks around areas of town that have litter problems. Beverage containers, cigarette packs and paper are the most common items, but sometimes she makes more interesting finds, particularly along the railroad tracks.
“I found part of a TV. I found a vacuum cleaner,” she said. “It was tossed along the roadside and had a lot of dirt on it.”
Once she found a collection of used needles and let the police department know so that they could be disposed of safely.
She said there are areas with high-speed traffic that she feels more comfortable cleaning up now that her son is in school and not accompanying her on walks. She tries to be careful by walking toward traffic along roadways with larger shoulders, which reduces the chance of being hit by a car. Sometimes she gets dirty looks, she said, from people who see her in grubby clothes carrying garbage bags and don’t seem to realize what she is doing. But other times people take the time to ask her what she’s doing, and respond with enthusiastic thanks when she explains.
Ainsworth said sometimes she gets busy and only goes out two or three times in a week, but for the most part she is out there five mornings a week picking up trash for at least an hour. She is looking for a part-time job, which may cut into her walking time, but for now she hopes her habit inspires others to take better care of their community.
“When people see something clean, they generally try and keep it clean, but if it’s already dirty they think, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter,’” she said.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.