Self-appointed litter man looks for a successor

Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2000

If Bob Garrison were going to award a Nobel Prize, he definitely wouldn't consider the inventor of the plastic snuff can.

Garrison has been the self-appointed janitor of the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge since 1988. Stumps of 600-year-old trees don't get his goat, but snuff cans, which resemble hollow hockey pucks, do.

In about five minutes of trudging across tidal creeks and eel grass flats on a recent Saturday, Garrison found three snuff cans. And, of course, they're only part of the trash.

In 1988, Garrison oversaw the cleanup of 200 giant bags of wetlands debris. Since then, he's collected about a bag a week.

More than a bag full of junk will be picked up on Litter Free Clean-Up Day on Saturday, when volunteers will scour the wetlands.

The litter includes everything from pingpong balls with cruise ships' names on them to Gatorade bottles, anti-freeze containers, chunks of plywood and foam insulation, entire walls of chicken-coop-size dwellings, infrared light bulbs, bits of plumbing and fish tote lids.

In recent times, however, Garrison has suffered a couple of heart attacks and been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Lean as a lead dog, Garrison still has the lazy, ground-swallowing lope of a lifelong hiker - the sort of person who climbs a mountain, and then, to cool off, walks three miles on the level. But he can no longer tote a backpack of beer bottles and snuff cans.

Garrison remembers a particular occasion from his trash-collecting heyday with a combination of pleasure and disgust.

``When my son, who is 45 now, was in high school, we went out to Windfall Lake and it was just a mess. We got five packboards and some friends and went back. We buried a bunch of stuff out there, and still brought back five full packboards,'' he said.

Garrison is concerned that he can no longer clean up the wetlands. He knows Trail Mix and the Litter Patrol will take up some of the slack, but he's seeking a willing successor to take over his pet project.

And he's looking forward to Litter Free Clean-Up Day when ``a couple of groups are going to hit the wetlands,'' according to Litter Free President Randy Hurtte.

Although Clean-Up Day officially takes place on Saturday, it really springs into action the previous day, Hurtte said.

``Friday, during the school day, we have 400 or 500 kids from middle schools and the high schools who participate. A lot gets done then because there are so many hands,'' Hurtte said.

In 1999, Litter Free Clean-Up Day retrieved 17,500 pounds of unattractive debris. But weight collected doesn't necessarily give a true picture of what happens to the landscape, Hurtte said.

``Some years we have pulled engine blocks and snowmobiles trashed on the side of the road, and those weigh a lot,'' Hurtte said. ``But probably what people see more is bottles, cans and plastic. If you get all that, it makes a bigger difference visually. The little stuff - the piece of paper stuck in a tree - is what catches the eye.''

Clean Up participants will be treated to a free picnic, 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Riverbend School. Door prizes include a Gustavus weekend courtesy of Meadow's Glacier Bay Guest House and Auk Nu Tours, and TEMSCO helicopter tours of Mendenhall Glacier.

Big yellow trash bags can be picked up from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at several sites including Foodland, Super Bear, Alaska Pacific Bank parking lot at Auke Bay, Fred Meyer, Duck Creek Market and Grant's Plaza/Western Auto. Filled bags should be left on the side of the road by 3 p.m. for pickup.

The unsung heroes of Clean-Up Day are local contractors who use their personnel, vehicles and gasoline to pick up filled bags and get them to Waste Management.

``Waste Management donates the cost of depositing all this at 18 cents a pound,'' Hurtte noted, ``so they are really our biggest contributor because that can amount to thousands of dollars.''

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