Last month I drove to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. My trip took me from Carter County, Tennessee through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I stopped at Hilton Head on the way down and on the way back. I try to make this trip as often as possible and I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Something about this last trip was different though, I did not enjoy the drive at all. Not wanting to lose something I enjoyed, I was determined to find out what spoiled the trip.
This is where an explanation is needed. I moved to Carter County three years ago. I noticed a significant amount of trash on our roads and in our waterways. I decided I had to do something about it and started picking up trash every Sunday morning. If you travel Milligan Highway and Powder Branch Road, you have probably seen me in my funny hat carrying a rake and garbage bag. In the last three years, I have removed over 350 bags of trash from just those two roads. Powder Branch only stays trash free for a few hours. I have also reported several instances of illegal dumping on Milligan Highway. Ok, I admit over the last three years I have become obsessed with trash. I cannot drive into Elizabethton without seeing large amounts of trash on every road and in every parking lot. Once I started to pay attention, I could not look away.
Back to my trip. The trip includes 1400 plus miles of Interstate and US highways through some of the most beautiful scenery in this country. Beautiful unless you are obsessed with trash. When I turn off I-26 onto Highway 321 in Johnson City, I know I am almost home. It was good to be home until I realized that there was more trash on the 4 mile stretch of Highway 321 between I-26 and Milligan Highway, than on any other road we traveled. It is not even close. There was more trash on our road than on Highway 170 into Hilton Head which is home to a very busy landfill.
So, what is different about Carter County than anywhere else we travelled on this trip. Two things, the fines for littering in our County are significantly less than anywhere else we visited, and the enforcement of the littering/dumping laws is poor at best. Do not misunderstand me, this is not an issue for Law Enforcement. Our brave officers have their hands full fighting crime. This is a problem for our local elected leaders to solve. As they say, “to permit it, is to promote it”. So, what can we do? You can write, call, and visit your local elected officials and demand they commit the energy and resources this issue deserves. Let’s not wait until our tourism is permanently damaged and no one wants to live here. Please act now to save our home – please stop littering and dumping. I have better things to do in my retirement.