While many county residents have noticed an increase in littering this year, one local group has been working hard to address the issue.
In July of this year, Kopavi Bluestar, of Vallecito, started a Facebook group – Calaveras HWY 4 Clean-up Crew – which is dedicated to cleaning up the county one piece of trash at a time.
“This year, I feel like everyone has noticed more trash than previous years,” Bluestar said. “I noticed a lot of people complaining.”
Rather than complain, Bluestar decided to do something about it. She mentioned in a Facebook post that she would like to start a group of volunteers, and quickly received about 200 encouraging responses.
“I was shocked that people were so excited about it,” Bluestar said. “But at the same time, I did have faith in the community. There’s a lot of things we can disagree on, but I think we can all agree on picking up trash and not having a litter-filled county.”
Unfortunately, the day after Bluestar started the group, she broke her heel in a car accident. While she has been organizing and attending the events, other volunteers have stepped in for the physical labor.
“We had so many people going down to Natural Bridges right away and bringing out loads of trash, and also in Murphys and up at White Pines,” she said. “I had people start donating grabbers and buckets, so that whoever was going out could come by my house and grab supplies.”
Steve Gonzales, the owner of The Garden in Murphys, helped to organize a clean-up event on Murphys Grade Road.
“It went so well that the next week we did another one and did a lower part of the grade,” Bluestar said. “We had about 10 people show up each time, but still got two huge truckloads full of trash.”
Bluestar said that she was surprised by how quickly the group had grown.
“It just grew really organically,” she said. “People are being so amazing.”
The Calaveras HWY 4 Clean-up Crew Facebook page now has over 800 members. Some have attended scheduled clean-up events, while others have independently picked up trash on their own, often posting pictures to the group’s Facebook page.
“There’s a place for everyone in the group,” Bluestar said. “If people want to go out and do their own thing, I just want them to have supplies.”
The Calaveras County Department of Public Works has made some supplies available to the group, including trash pickup tools, orange safety vests and construction signs.
“Public Works is amazing,” Bluestar said. “They said no matter what events we set up, just let them know as soon as we are planning them, and they’ll set aside stuff for us. And if we need them to order more, they can do that as well.”
Bluestar said that she hopes to inspire others to help clean up the county and to discourage people from littering. She hopes that people will be less inclined to litter if trash isn’t already present.
“If we get the trash thing somewhat under control, then we can start doing other things to make the county more beautiful – planting wildflowers, stuff like that,” she said.
On Sunday, the group held its largest clean-up event so far – the 1st Annual Community Clean Up on Camp Nine Road. Several stations were set up with refreshments and supplies, while roughly 40 volunteers spread out along the length of the roadway, picking up any trash that they came across. Many wore recently made bright yellow t-shirts featuring the group’s name.
Trucks and trailers were loaded up with old mattresses, appliances, tires and an assortment of other trash to be hauled off to the dump. One volunteer, Jeremy Leonard, even brought an excavator to move some of the larger appliances.
District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway was one of many who came out to lend a hand. She previously volunteered on the Murphys Grade Road clean up.
“It’s interesting how this is happening organically,” Callaway said. “This is something that’s growing, and helping to keep Calaveras clean and green and beautiful. Hopefully, it will stretch to other parts of the county.”
Callaway said that at the next meeting, the board of supervisors will consider doing something to help the group.
“I’m hoping on the 13th, when the board comes together, that they’ll allow them to dump all of these appliances and tires and wave the fee,” she said.
Callaway said that she respected Bluestar for taking action to address the litter problem.
“You can talk about what a mess it is, or you can just come out and clean it,” she said. “It’s incredibly well organized. I’m so impressed.”
Down by the old limestone quarry, Robert Peffer was wrangling a mass of rusty barbed wire into manageable shape to be placed in the bed of a pickup truck. He brought along a truck and dump trailer from his tree removal company, Peffer’s Tree Service, which is based in Dorrington. His family and his work crew also volunteered for the day.
“I went to school with Kopavi, and I saw her reaching out for help out here,” he said. “I figured myself and my guys could come out and lend a hand cleaning up our hometown.”
At 12:30 p.m., the group gathered for lunch. The meal was provided at no cost courtesy of Murphys Pizza Co., Firewood and Murphys Pourhouse. Sierra Hills Market pitched in to provide free bottles of ice-cold water.
Other businesses and individuals that contributed to the event include Sierra Stain & Seal, Country Yard Care, Calaveras Clean Up, Freedom Energy Inc., Thompson Construction, JR Woodworks, Murphys Historic Hotel, Nash Chevron, and Lisa and Tim Mutterties. Rangers from New Melones provided trash pickup tools, masks and sanitizer.
Along with Bluestar, the other administrators of the Facebook page are Jeff Brown, Shaira Hegel, Krystina Jarnagin, Ian Aiton and David Wiegel, while Cynthia Sudduth is the page’s moderator.
Bluestar and Jarnagin, of Arnold, have been the main drivers behind the group. This summer, Jarnagin joined the White Pines Park Committee and began leading a weekly clean-up event at the park at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“There’s no one paid to take care of that park, so it’s all up to volunteers,” she said.
Jarnagin’s grandfather, Jim Carlon, owner of Arnold Auto Supply, helped form the White Pines Park Committee many years ago, and recently paid out-of-pocket for several signs and banners discouraging littering which have been placed by the group.
“They’re only in Arnold right now, but we’re hoping to get more,” Jarnagin said.
Jarnagin said that she was excited that the group was bringing people together during a divisive time.
“It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are or if we disagree or agree on different situations,” she said. “This is something we can all come together and agree on – that we need to pick up and do something about the litter problem. That’s what I think is really cool about it. … It’s contagious too, just helping out. I’m excited to see where this goes.”
While the volunteers were working hard, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
“It’s almost like a party,” Jarnagin said. “Especially now, where we can sit down and eat and enjoy each other’s company, feeling good about ourselves for doing all of this work.”
Jarnagin said that the formation of the group has been a bright spot in a challenging year.
“It’s keeping us happy and busy and doing good things,” she said. “We need that right now, especially this year.”
Bluestar said on Monday that she was happy with how the event turned out.
“We managed to fill up four trailers, and so many trucks left with loads that I couldn’t even count them all,” she said. “We didn’t get everything, but at the same time, I feel like we got more than we thought we were going to get. I feel like people showed up just willing to work.”
The best part of the event was all of the positive feedback from volunteers, Bluestar said.
“Even though it was a dirty job, and when we showed up it seemed impossible, at the end I feel like everyone was so proud and spirits were really high,” she said. “Everyone was really happy with how it went.”
The group plans on finishing up the job this coming Sunday.
To volunteer or make a donation, visit the Calaveras HWY 4 Clean-Up Crew Facebook page.