This summer, while on a bike ride along Highway 22, Jackson Hole resident Renée Glick couldn’t help but notice the abundance of litter alongside the road. She decided to do something about it and reached out to the Wyoming Department of Transportation to ask if she and her 13-year-old daughter, Ryan, could pick it up — maybe three or four bags. WYDOT gave them 10.
“I’m never going to pick up 10 bags,” Glick recalled thinking. “There’s not that much trash.”
But they went through those 10 bags in just a day or so in early September, and “we just kept picking up after that,” Ryan said.
Two months after starting, the mother-daughter duo has filled 75 bags with trash from across the valley.
“It became almost an obsession for me,” Glick said. “Because then the very next day there was trash right where we had picked up, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a huge ongoing problem.’
“We’ve covered some parts of our route like four times, which is so gross,” she said. “And it’s unbelievable.”
Among other areas throughout the county, the Glicks cleaned along Highway 22 to Wilson, Highway 390 to Teton Village and Spring Gulch Road, parts of which they have scoured four times.
They have been going out about three times a week, usually after Ryan, a seventh-grader at Jackson Hole Middle School, finishes her homework.
Sometimes the Glicks park and walk. Other times they drive with Ryan keeping lookout through the passenger window. Glick’s husband, Tim, once drove with his hazard lights on while they picked up 11 bags along Spring Gulch Road.
While mostly just dirty work, their effort has yielded some exciting finds, like $116 in cash plus a bag containing $8 worth of quarters — almost a reward for their hard work. Most of the rest of what they have picked up doesn’t quite fall into the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” category.
“We found broken signs that I wasn’t expecting to see and the huge PVC pipes,” Ryan said. “And a lot of beer, vodka and wine bottles.”
Glick added that they have picked up countless cigarette butts, remnants from car accidents, upwards of 10 hubcaps, ice bags, litter from the back of landscapers’ and other subcontractors’ trucks, broken sunglasses and even men’s underwear.
They suspect much of the trash has been thrown from car windows or has accidentally flown out of truck beds. The sheer volume of trash and its ability to seemingly replenish overnight has surprised them and made their efforts nearly nonstop.
“It’s pretty grueling work,” Glick said. “You have to bend over almost every step — like, that’s how much trash there is.”
Teresa Nelson, who manages highway cleanup for WYDOT, said it’s normal for the Sierra Club or Boy Scouts to pick up 10 to 15 bags of trash along roadsides once in a while, but not for a mother and daughter to pick up 75 bags. The Glicks “have gone way above and beyond the efforts of everyone else combined,” Nelson said in an email to the News&Guide.
Glick is proud of her daughter for all the hard work she has put into a volunteer activity that is unusual for a 13-year-old.
“One of the coolest things that came from it, too, was that people would stop, people would yell out the windows and say ‘thank you,’ which is really rewarding,” she said. “I had gotten so many different messages and emails from people that I would relay to Ryan saying, you know, what a great thing it is that she’s doing this, because she’s part of the next generation. And so many kids are just inside and not doing that.”
As Ryan is attending school in person only two days a week, she has found this new way of spending free time gratifying.
“It helps the planet, and it makes me feel a lot better that there’s less trash out there on the road,” she said.
And the safety and physical benefits of picking up litter are apparent, compared with other volunteer opportunities.
“These times it’s a great way to social distance,” Glick said. “And it’s a great way to get some amazing lower back exercise and hamstring stretches while you’re walking.”
Such benefits aside, their work serves to show that Jackson Hole residents and visitors can be quite a bit more conscientious of their waste disposal.
“They should watch the garbage in the back of their truck and not throw it out the window,” Ryan said. “They should find a trash can and put it all in there, or at their trash can at home. And people, when they see trash, they should stop and pick it up, and they should just help in general.”
People can volunteer with WYDOT individually like the Glicks or sign up as a group for the Adopt-A-Highway program, in which they agree to clean a 2-mile stretch of highway at least twice a year. Though Glick would like to see groups cleaning their areas more frequently, rather than doing just the bare minimum to get their name on a sign.
The weather is growing colder, and ice may limit the Glicks in the coming months, but they plan to return to work next season. They hope others will help out, too.
“Whenever it’s safe and there’s trash, I’m stopping and I’m picking it up,” Glick said. “I’m going to always have the orange bags in my truck. I mean, there is no reason that everybody can’t just have an orange bag in their truck and collect one bag a year. It would make such an impact on the community.”