What started as a small group of neighbors banding together to stop a gravel pit operation three years ago has grown and expanded its efforts to keep Empire and Clear Creek County beautiful. Along …
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What started as a small group of neighbors banding together to stop a gravel pit operation three years ago has grown and expanded its efforts to keep Empire and Clear Creek County beautiful.
Along with its ongoing efforts to preserve the Douglas Mountain plateau, this year, the Friends of Clear Creek started or continued several projects, including monthly highway clean-up events along U.S. Highway 40.
“I think what the group is doing is amazing,” member John Enochs said. “ ... We came together for a gravel pit, and kept going.”
On Saturday morning, about 12 members participated in the final clean-up event for 2021. The event was also part of World Cleanup Day and National Cleanup Day, and the Friends of Berthoud Pass group similarly working a few miles higher on U.S. 40.
Multiple Friends of Clear Creek members reported that their bags weren’t as full on Saturday as they have been during past events. Joe “Mojo” Lucas, the group’s vice president, confirmed that the group picked up fewer bags of trash this season than it has the previous two years.
Amy Phan, who lives in Empire, wondered whether it was because of the group’s clean-up efforts or because people aren’t littering as much along U.S. 40. She hoped it was the latter.
Empire’s Melissa Martin noted that there was a lot of litter along the highway when the group adopted its section, because it’d hadn’t been taken care of for several years.
Lucas said that, unfortunately, a lot of the trash has been alcohol-related, including beer cans and small liquor bottles. He worried about what that means for the health and safety of passing motorists, positing that people are likely drinking them while they drive and then throwing them out the window.
Still, seeing less trash this year is a win. Plus, even though the final clean-up event is over, the group has other projects in the works.
According to Margi and Tony Kaspari, one member recently donated funds so the group can buy new, weather-proof flags for the display in Empire.
Another project, Lucas explained, is a wildlife crossing that will be over U.S. 40 near Empire Junction.
The Colorado Department of Transportation confirmed the project is in the design phase, and the Friends of Clear Creek group is working with the agency to ensure it’s a success.
The bridge will be critical for the local bighorn sheep, with Lucas describing how, during clean-up events, the group’s found skeletons of sheep that died trying to cross U.S. 40.
The bridge is scheduled for construction in summer 2022, CDOT representatives said, clarifying that it is a subset of the Floyd Hill project. A second wildlife crossing will be built under Interstate 70 just east of the bison overlook in Genesee.
But, whether the Friends of Clear Creek are putting up new flags or providing input on a wildlife crossing, Martin said everyone enjoys getting together and honoring their friend Hans Berg.
Berg, who helped found the group, died in a March 2019 avalanche on Jones Pass. The Friends of Clear Creek adopted its highway segment in memory of him.
“From a small seed, a mighty tree may grow,” Martin said, quoting a phrase Berg often used. “ ... We can make changes as a group, starting with the trash.”
Margi Kaspari and Martin both said the Friends of Clear Creek are always looking for more people to join them, whether it’s for a clean-up event or for other projects.
Phan remarked how one of the reasons she and her husband, Jeff Widincamp, joined was the members’ dedication to their cause.
“I love how everyone really cares ... about the environment and keeping our neighborhood clean,” she said. “This is our home.”
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