Yesterday was Earth Day. In the past, the Highlands Plateau Cleanup took place on the Saturday closest to Earth Day. The sponsor of the event, the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, cancelled this year’s Saturday cleanup due to COVID-19. That was bad news.
Nevertheless, there is good news. The cleanup has already been done by small groups of volunteers. Margot Teed developed the idea to create a volunteer program called the Highlands Garbage Grabbers. Margot and her husband Fred partnered and pooled resources with the Highlands Chamber and their program coordinator, Beverly Wichman.
The project started with small groups of three or four volunteers signing up on Highlands Garbage Grabbers Facebook page to pick up trash on a designated day. Margot had a drive thru and curbside system where the groups would drive to the recreation parking lot and receive a prepackaged sack of supplies including gloves, vests and pickup sticks. COVID-19 protocols were followed.
The small groups would then tell Margot where they were going to pick up trash on a highway. Margot would tell Fred and me where and when to collect the trash bags. Slowly but surely groups came forward and progress was made.
A final trash assault was made last Saturday when small groups of OEI employees spread out on all the corridors to pick up sections that had yet to be done. Fred and I hauled to the town dumpsters about 35 bags of garbage on Saturday afternoon. I want to thank Larry Holt, head of the town sanitation department, for safely processing the bags by that evening.
I want to thank Margot and Fred Teed, all the volunteers of the Highlands Garbage Grabbers, and the Highlands Chamber of Commerce. As Fred and I removed the last bags of trash, I told him this program was a new model. The corridors have been swept of trash, and now we have a program to keep them that way.
Volunteers are still needed to keep moving forward. Go to Highlands Garbage Grabbers on Facebook and signup to do a highway trash sweep. We will collect the garbage bags and make sure they get to the landfill.
Sometimes a forced change results in a creative alternative. A case in point is the new way the corridors have been cleaned. Other improved systems will be created in response to this crisis.
I have been getting numerous questions about when I and the town board will reopen Highlands. My response is that we will follow the governor and the state health director’s lead in plans to reopen the state, counties and towns. We anticipate new state guidelines very soon.
Also, I have been in contact with Warren Cabe, the Macon County Emergency Operations Director. He has been in discussions with other officials in adjoining counties and towns. We all agree that there should be a regional coordinated effort for reopening the region.
Commissioner Patterson, commissioner Hehn and I participated in a Zoom meeting with the leadership of the Highlands Chamber of Commerce this week. There was agreement of the need to work together beginning now to develop plans to reopen the businesses and the town, even though the date to begin this process is still unknown.
I was very gratified to hear the chamber leadership stress that a reopening will need to be deliberate, balanced and gradual. The notion of just flipping a switch and returning to normal operations won’t happen. The town leadership must plan carefully to balance citizen safety with the need to reopen our economy and community.