For more than a decade, Denver resident Patty Korn has spent her weekends picking up the county’s littered roads.
“It’s such a preventable problem,” she said. “I look at the litter as a cancer on the environment.”
Originally from Illinois, Korn relocated to North Carolina in the mid-90s after serving in the Air Force for 20 years.
“After I got out of the Air Force, I could have retired anywhere,” she said. “I chose North Carolina because I remember visiting my sister and seeing how pretty it was, with the flowers planted in the median along the highways. We’re just surrounded by all of this natural beauty with Lake Norman, and then our roads are just covered with trash.”
As the eastern end of the county has become more developed over the years, Korn has noticed a steady increase in litter.
“I started mostly in my neighborhood, and then probably two to three years ago, I branched out and started doing more on NC-16 (Business),” she said. “When I first moved here, it didn’t seem to be that big of a problem.”
Korn’s six-mile route takes her along Highway 16 Business, from Highway 73 to the railroad tracks north of Webbs Road.
“I’m getting old, and it’s physically very demanding, what I do,” she said. “It’s a lot of walking and a lot of lifting. The biggest risk is a distracted driver — getting hit.”
She also focuses on several local roads: Optimist Club Road, Highway 73 between Pilot Knob Road and Highway 16 Bypass, part of Triangle Circl, Club Road and by the Little Creek boat access.
“Around here you’ll see a house, and they’ll pick up around their house, but the house will be surrounded by vacant land…and people don’t even bother to pick up near their own home,” she said. “I don’t know how people can stand to drive past that every day.”
Korn believes the roadside litter stems from drivers actively tossing trash from their vehicles as well as being blown off of trailers and truck beds.
“Drivers can’t count on an item’s weight to keep it in the bed of a truck or trailer,” she said. “Much of the roadside litter is blown, not thrown, such as empty boxes, empty plastic bags of ice, pet food, fertilizer, grass seed, beer and soda cartons. And then there’s big items, and that’s another frustration. I don’t know how you can get to the convenience site and not have a Christmas tree, the mattress, the bags of trash. I mean, people won’t come back and get them. And then if they get hit, they spread all over the road.”
An advocate for the county’s environment, Korn serves as the Lincoln County volunteer coordinator for NC Big Sweep, working with boat owners and volunteers twice a year to clean up the Lake Norman islands, often removing pick-up truck loads of trash at each event. She has also worked with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in returning lost license plates and drivers’ licenses found along her litter routes, and assisted NCDOT by alerting them of animal carcasses on the roads and damaged traffic signs.
“I don’t know how many people stop to think when they’re throwing out their fast food stuff out on the side of the road — that attracts animals,” she said. “Then we have more road kill, and that’s unsightly and unhealthy.
“A lot of people probably think what I’m doing is gross or degrading,” she said. “I don’t think picking up litter is degrading, I think the litter itself is degrading. I mean, it is gross, and it’s no fun. There are a lot of other things I’d rather be doing, but I really like the way the roads look when I’m done. And people have expressed their appreciation, so I know they appreciate it. It’s just frustrating how fast it comes back.”
For more information, contact Patty Korn at (704) 489-8761 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.