While it’s common to see trash on the side of the road, it’s rare to find anyone cleaning it up. Yet, for the past three years, that’s what longtime Berlin residents Robin Wickham and Mike Bialecki have done.
Wickham does it primarily because she doesn’t like looking at the mess.
“We like to walk and run the path near where we are in the borough, and it just stresses me out to see all the trash,” she said. “We see the deer every single day in the woods, and it sounds weird, but I feel weird. The deer have to walk over and through all this trash. It’s disheartening to see it, and it accumulates so much.”
In early March, the couple and their friend Dave Angeline spent a weekend cleaning up the side of Cross Keys Road, from Agway to King of Pizza. Afterward, they shared pictures through Facebook of the 15 bags they had collected. Their post received so much attention and support that Angeline decided to post again, this time inviting people to help clean Berlin Park on March 20. Their hope is to do a cleanup the third Saturday of every month.
When another resident organized a similar event last year, 25 to 30 people showed up to help clean the park area. Most of the trash found in the parks or on the roadsides consisted of bottles, cans and fast-food wrappers. Angeline was hopeful people would come with ideas about where they could work next.
“You can’t point the finger at any one group or any one person. It’s everybody’s fault,” Angeline noted. “A lot of people point fingers at the Berlin Mart because they’re right there, and yeah, that’s some of it, but this is just ignorant people opening their windows and throwing it out.”
Municipal Clerk Dwayne Harris said responsibility for keeping streets clean depends on who owns the roads. The borough, county and state are responsible for maintaining and sweeping their roads. Since the roadsides Wickham and Bialecki have cleaned in the past, such as Park Drive, Cross Keys Road, Tansboro Road and New Freedom Road, are owned by the county, it is responsible for the maintenance.
Once the trash has been picked up by Wickham and Bialecki, they leave the bags on the side of the road so Angeline can dispose of them. Before Angeline got involved, and Wickham used biodegradable bags, the bags would sit and deteriorate with the weather.
“The county doesn’t come down and pick them up, and the township isn’t supposed to pick them up,” Angeline explained.
Harris said if someone is cleaning up the roads as a project, it is best to coordinate with the borough, which will arrange for the trash to be left at a specific location and retrieved by the sanitation department.
Though Camden County can fine people up to $50 for littering, it’s difficult to enforce, especially when the trash comes from people throwing things out the window while they drive.
On March 20, eight residents showed up to clean Berlin Park. Some wore gloves, others came with trash pickers and grabbers and all were armed with plastic bags to pick things up. They spent over an hour gathering the trash on the sides of Park Drive and cleaning different parts of the park, collecting at least 8 bags of trash.
During their cleaning, volunteers stumbled upon what appeared to be the belongings of two homeless people. In addition to personal items, there was also litter in the vicinity. Since the areas seemed to be actively lived in, volunteers cleaned up some of the trash but mostly left it alone.
Though the cleanup turnout was not quite what people had hoped, the small group of volunteers still left the area cleaner than when they arrived. Angeline said “every little bit helps.”
“You don’t have to have 50 people to make a difference.”
The group’s next cleanup session will be on Saturday, April 17 at 9 a.m., where they plan to meet at Robert’s Bar and Grill on Cross Keys Road. For anyone interested in helping or learning more, contact Dave Angeline at at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-655-1839.