Highlands shows its true colors
As I jogged around the corner from Smallwood Avenue to Sixth Street last Saturday morning, I got showered in my first blast of bright orange powder. The folks throwing the colored powder were smiling, and I laughed too at the whole silly, joyous experience as I continued on my way in the Highlands School Color Run.
The 5K raised $3,700 for the school’s freshman and sophomore classes, which they’ll use for prom and graduation expenses when the time comes. But perhaps more significant than the money collected was the shared experience of doing something active together on a brilliant Saturday. The vast majority of the 150 runners were kids and teens, and the elation on many young faces was clear as they spent time engaging in physical fitness while having fun with their friends. A final explosion of rainbow dust at the finish line capped off an event that brought the school community together for a good cause.
But the Color Run was just one facet of the Highlands community showing its spirit last Saturday. About 100 volunteers gathered at the Visitor Center at 9:30 a.m. before fanning out on town streets and along highways to rid the landscape of litter. The annual Gorge Cleanup and Plateau Pickup removed an astonishing 4 tons of trash this year, and the one-day event is just the beginning, as Mayor Patrick Taylor leads an army of Trash Ambassadors in a fight to retain the scenic character of Highlands.
I couldn’t take part in the Gorge Cleanup this year (being busy running through multicolored clouds downtown) but I volunteered last year and I can vouch that picking up litter in our area is no easy feat. Discarded beer cans full of rainwater and gunk sprout like mushrooms along our ditches, fast-food wrappers entwine themselves in bushes, and all manner of convenience items become glued onto the shoulders of roads. Plucking this detritus from our roadways is hard work and it was amazing to see so many residents and visitors give over their Saturday to the endeavor. At noon, I saw the mayor and Sam Green still at it, slinging full trash bags into the back of the mayor’s truck on Highway 106. It’s community-based efforts such as these that can really make a difference.
Meanwhile, over at the Highlands Nature Center, conservation-minded groups and Biological Station staff spent Saturday educating the public about our impact on the environment in honor of Earth Day. Kid-friendly activities aimed to help foster a love of nature in the next generation and instill an appreciation for the world that surrounds us. Of course, learning about nature is not without its entertainment. Gary Wein of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust amused and enlightened visitors with replica animal excrement and Alyssa Fuller showed off creepy-crawly creatures to wide-eyed children.
At the same time, across town at the Highlands Historical Museum, another crowd gathered for the dedication of an exhibit of Furman Vinson’s boat, which sank in Lake Sequoyah in 1930 and was discovered last year when the lake was lowered. The display at the museum serves as yet another example of what can come from a community working together. In this case, the boat exhibit honors Highlands’ collective past and also all those those worked to recover and preserve this piece of history, including volunteers and town crews.
Highlands was alive last Saturday in a way that only a close-knit community awakening in spring can be. The vibrance of our mountain town shone through not only in the Day-Glo pink, orange and blue covering smiling runners but also in people coming out to connect, to pitch in, to give back to the community and to experience a sense of togetherness and potential.