Litter can become a major eyesore, however, in general, instead of picking it up, most people will look at it with disgust and move on. Not so the group of community members who make up Keep Lincoln County Beautiful. A team of seven volunteers, all in their golden years, picked up and hauled away approximately two tons of trash including bulk items such as bike frames, pieces of a chair, suitcases and heavy blankets along the railroad tracks from South Generals Boulevard near East Gaston Street to Edwards Street.

One might wonder why these people take time to take on such a project. Jim Putnam, a retired textile executive and the KLCB Litter Committee chair shared his story. He started walking along the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail-Trail on his 75th birthday, June 18, 2015, because his son had given him a Fitbit for his birthday.

“I hadn’t been very active since hip replacement surgery about five years before that,” he said. “It took me a couple of weeks to get comfortable with the walking, but after a week or two I was walking the entire trail daily.”

After about a month he began to notice the environment around the trail – in particular the amount of litter that seemed to appear throughout the trail daily and it frustrated him. 

“So, I began to pick it up on my daily walk and became a little anal and addicted to keeping the trail as clean as possible,” he said. “At some point within the first three months I started walking during the early morning hours when the trail was nearly deserted so I pretty much had the trail to myself and would often go off trail to search for litter along the brush on the sides.”

Putnam even picks up dog waste. The trail was particularly bad, he added, around the Christian Ministry area because their clients bring food down to the trail and scatter packaging waste around. He also lets those who manage the trail know when lights are out so that they can be replaced.

In time, Putnam was asked to be on the Rail Trail Advisory Committee. 

“By that time, I had developed a real affinity for the trail and considered it a real asset to the city, so I agreed and attended my first Rail Trail Advisory Board meeting in January 2016,” he said. “Ritchie (Hayes) still chairs that group and in the more than four years that I have been a participant we have made many changes and improvements to the trail. One of the most important from a litter impact standpoint was the addition of more litter containers as well as the redeployment of existing containers to areas where litter was more prevalent.”

When the KLCB group was first getting organized and qualifying for sanction in the fall of 2018, Hayes, who was going to be the City of Lincolnton government representative on the board of directors asked Putnam if he would be the Lincolnton city public representative. 

“I agreed under the condition that I would serve on that board for just one year, which I have since fulfilled, however, I am still the litter chairmen for the Litter Committee, and I am the proxy for the new city public representative board member,” he said. 

The KLCB Litter Committee decided after appealing to the entities involved (CSX, NCDOT and the City of Lincolnton) that the only way that the issue of the trash along the railroad tracks was going to be handled was to do it themselves. They felt like it had gone on unresolved for a very long time because the parties involved had neither the will nor the reserves to deal with it. Further complicating the picture was the presence of some homeless encampments under the bridge.   

“I cannot stress enough what a great job our volunteers did,” Putnam said. “The total bags of litter generated was 129. Consider that each bag weighed from 20 to 40 pounds, maybe some a little more and some a little less. If the average was 30 pounds that’s almost 4000 pounds or two tons of waste that was taken out of the environment that day. That does not include a lot of bulk waste (blankets, tarps, suitcases, bicycle parts, tires) that was also collected.”

Each bag had to be carried by hand approximately a quarter mile or so to one of the three vehicle accessible areas and then hand loaded onto a trailer that could only handle about 30 bags at a time. At some of the access areas, the bags had to be carried up a steep hill. Trailer limitations necessitated four trips to the Tin Mine Street convenience facility where each load was off loaded.  

Safety procedures were followed, according to Putnam. There was only one train that passed through during the pickup, and there were no confrontations or interactions with the homeless in the area. 

“I think it’s also important to mention that all volunteers were seniors with age ranging from 60 to almost 80,” he said. “Clearly we need some younger volunteers. It’s a huge project that will go mostly unnoticed because of the location, but one that brought a great deal of satisfaction to our team and one that I think of which the KLCB Board should be well proud. Litter control and prevention has become a passion for me. I’m proud to serve the city and the county in whatever capacity that I can be helpful in affecting solutions for this issue.” 

In the story published in the May 13, 2020 edition entitled, “Community members undertake major litter cleanup,” the reference to trash on the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail-Trail near Christian Ministry of Lincoln County is not a current problem. The situation was bad when Jim Putnam started on the trail, but with the addition of some containers in the right locations and some education of the people involved it’s no longer a trouble spot and hasn’t been for a quite a while.

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