PEMBROKE — Adults may have been responsible for the mess, but a group of Boy Scouts in Pembroke took it upon themselves to clean it up on Saturday morning.
From 9 a.m. until noon, the scouts filled 14 heavy duty garbage bags with beer bottles, cigarette packages, spent pregnancy tests and other litter that had built up in ditches along N.C. 711. The scouts, who ranged in age from 10 to 16 years old, covered about a mile of land, beginning at the Marathon convenience store and ending at Chicken Road.
The cleanup was organized by the Pembroke Kiwanis Club, and several members of the civic organization turned out to help the scouts collect trash. The Pembroke Police Department also lent a hand, providing an escort to alert motorists of the scouts’ presence.
“We see this as giving back to the community,” said club President Mitchell Lowry. “The Boy Scouts seemed eager to do this.”
A former corrections officer, Lowry said he felt the town’s litter problem has been exacerbated by the recent closing of the minimum security prison on N.C. 711.
“We no longer have that constant pick-up with the inmates going out to collect trash every day,” he said. “Now people are discarding furniture, car tires and all sorts of other stuff on the road. I don’t know how they keep from getting caught.”
During the cleanup, Kiwanis Club Treasurer Dale Thomas said she was disappointed to find litter that had originated from outside the town.
“It’s a shame when you see Wendy’s hamburger wrappers on the road and we don’t even have a Wendy’s in Pembroke,” she said. “It’s like we’re importing trash.”
In addition to all of the garden-variety garbage, Lowry said that the scouts collected a large number of busted reflector markers from the highway.
By participating in community service projects, Boy Scouts earn credits that can be used to acquire merit badges. A few of the youths picking up litter were working toward becoming Eagle Scouts — the highest rank attainable through the organization.
Arron Cummings, a 16-year-old who hopes to achieve Eagle Scout status by the end of the year, said he was surprised to find so much trash strewn along the highway.
“It was more than I anticipated,” he said. “I think Pembroke is dirty and it needs to be cleaned.”
Channing Brewington, a 13-year-old also working toward Eagle Scout status, had a plan for what could be done to curtail the town’s littering problem.
“I think they should change the punishment for littering and make it so that people who litter have to go out and pick it up instead of paying a fine,” he said.
On March 17, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners vowed to take a tougher stance on enforcing litter laws, which currently include fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 per violation.
After the scouts finished cleaning up, they were taken to Dairy Queen and presented with certificates of appreciation from the Kiwanis Club.
“We always hope that, as they grow older, they will appreciate what they have and pass that attitude along to other people,” Lowry said.
From April 26 through May 10, the North Carolina Department of Transportation will hold a statewide “Litter Sweep.” During the event, volunteers may pick up orange trash bags and other supplies from their DOT county maintenance office. In addition to receiving a certificate of appreciation for taking part in the drive, volunteers will be entered into the North Carolina DOT’s “Unusual Litter Contest” for the chance to win cash prizes.
For information on how to volunteer, call the Litter Sweep Hotline at 1-800-331-5864.