Lisa Davis, park manager at Carter Caves State Resort Park near Olive Hill in Carter County, was thinking about the problem of litter a while back and came up with a simple idea – ask schoolchildren to lead a campaign to ask friends and family to sign a pledge not to litter for one year.
She shared the idea with Carter County school officials and, over a two-week period in early May, students at eight Carter County schools collected signatures from folks who pledged not to be litterbugs.
“I had it in the back of my mind that we would collect 7,000 signatures,” Davis said.
Boy, was she wrong. When all the sheets were tallied, exactly 26,542 people signed on the dotted line. The entire population of Carter County is 27,144.
“I was astounded,” Davis recalled.
One class alone, having just 21 students, collected 2,122 signatures.
The idea really took hold in her class, said Jo Anne Dunfee of Easter Carter Middle School.
Being the class that collected the most signatures was a matter of pride, Ms. Dunfee said.
“They really wanted to do it,” she said.
One student collected pledges in Ohio, while another took along pledge forms on a visit to Ashland, 30 miles away.
The campaign had the added benefit of teaching schoolchildren about the environmental impact of litter, she added.
A sheet that accompanied the information packet sent to teachers noted that a discarded cigarette butt takes 12 years to decompose. For a glass bottle, the decomposition rate is 1 million years. A plastic bottle is believed to literally never break down.
On May 26, Ms. Dunfee and her students visited Carter Caves to hear words of praise
from Park Manager Davis and to enjoy a free field trip to Cascade Cave as part of their reward for being the class collecting the most pledges. The kids also earned a picnic lunch after the field trip, plus a free swim pass for their next visit to the park.
Also on hand was Dorothy Callihan’s class at Olive Hill Elementary School, which came in second place with 1,020 pledges. They, too, got a free cave tour and a picnic.
Other schools participating were Prichard Elementary, Heritage Elementary, Carter Elementary, Star Elementary, Upper Tygart Elementary, and East Carter High School.
Davis said she plans to expand the campaign throughout the school system next year. Meanwhile, Parks Commissioner George Ward is evaluating how the anti-litter effort can be rolled out to other state parks.