Fighting Trash in Town and On Our Trails

New Paltz and Trash Cleanup

Every year, the Environmental Alliance, Wallkill Valley Rail Trail volunteers and individuals spend hours cleaning up the space around New Paltz. Even with the persona of a college town and Woodstock’s love child, some residents don’t seem to follow the ideals of the hippie culture we so proudly flaunt. While one’s reason to litter can be anything from laziness, lack of an available trash can or simply someone not caring, I wanted to look at some of the potential causes and sources of trash in the Village, and possible steps to make volunteer trash cleanups a thing of the past.

The Wallkill River, and the River-to-Ridge

Let’s start at the Wallkill River, located at the bottom of town and upwards. Across the water, there’s corn fields. You can drive straight forward after the bridge, or you can turn right and head north. Since the only footpath over the bridge connects to the River-to-Ridge Trail, there isn’t any “thru” foot traffic except for cyclists, hikers and anyone looking to walk outside. Because of this, it’s very difficult to find trash west of the Wallkill and before the mountains, luckily.

The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

On our side of the water, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail travels parallel and crosses over the river to the north at the “Quiet Place” bridge, and towards Gardiner to the south. Despite a complete lack of maintained trash cans, there usually isn’t any trash on the trail itself. “Leave no Trace” principles, and a lesser likelihood for difficult items to “pack in, pack out” such as Solo cups or paper plates can explain the cleanliness, for the most part.

For the parts on the trail with larger drops instead of simple divots, litter is more an issue of accumulation than constant malpractice. Over time, trash from the area can begin to collect in these areas and stay there due to leaf and snow cover, or over concerns of private property. Alongside lighter litter, much of the trash found on either side of the trail consists mostly of heavier empty liquor and beer bottles, items that were likely tossed right from the trail.

Plattekill Avenue and Main Street

The most constant issue I’ve seen happens on Plattekill Avenue. From the northeast corner of campus next to Science Hall and curving into Main Street at Starbucks, litter has been a constant sight and issue. This makes sense, as this span between campus and town has a complete lack of trash cans except for a single set at the Village Hall; the closest one after that is in the municipal parking lot, right behind McGillicuddy’s.

Weird, right? In our college town, the most direct and high-traffic route from campus is common knowledge. Anybody could spend one night on the corner of PnGs and watch hordes of college kids with questionable IDs come straight down the road. With them, the crowds leave a trail of empty cups, bottles, cans and occasionally fully-discarded meals and packaging (pizza, anyone?)

Throughout these examples, there seems to be three main factors that impact the amount of litter and how long it stays around: geography, social attitude and infrastructure.

Geography and Trash

If an area has a natural “dip” in its landscape, trash is likely to accumulate and pile up even if littering isn’t a common problem. This can explain most of the litter found in low-traffic areas like the undeveloped lot near the Mohonk parking lot and areas with more individual consideration for trash like the trail. Steep drops, foliage and other obstacles such as privacy concerns can make picking up trash or even seeing it a non-starter. Thanks to the work of groups like the Environmental Alliance on campus and the volunteers with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, these pile-ups of garbage get taken care of.

Social Attitudes and Lack of Accountability

We can provide opportunities to students in the honors program, Greek life and others required to volunteer by having any kind of management in place — but for now trash pickups are set up and supplied by campus organizations or non-profits. A regular campus-funded event or program for volunteer opportunities with the town would cost nothing while providing an individual with their required community service hours. As an added bonus, volunteers would be able to see the change in front of their eyes, encouraging them to not litter and even maybe picking up a bottle when they see it on the side of the road.

Lack of Reasonable Trash Infrastructure

Lastly, and most importantly, our public trash cans are set up in a laughable manner. Stand in front of Gourmet Pizza, look to your left, and you can count six trash cans between yourself and Snugs Harbor. Despite having a trash can every ten feet, you’ll still find trash anytime you walk up Main Street after a night out.

More trash cans aren’t going to stop a drunk kid from tossing a pizza box, so maybe putting a majority of them on a single span isn’t the best use of them. If you put one trash can each in front of Snugs, Best Pizza and Gourmet Pizza, most outgoers wouldn’t be further than a few feet from one at any time.

Instead, we should place trash cans on Plattekill Avenue, and provide trash stops at intersections of the Rail Trail and other high-foot traffic areas. In town, the walk from Van Den Berg to S. Chestnut Street / Rt. 208 is the second high-traffic path for college kids going out. We could provide a trash can at the dead end past Hasbrouck Park, and one at the intersection of Mohonk and S. Chestnut. Put the third one right at Peace Park and there’s one less excuse people can use to throw junk around.

While the Rail Trail doesn’t have enough funding or support to upkeep trash cans, we can each do our best to leave no trace and clean up when we see someone else’s impulsive choice. If citizens and the village work together, they can clean up New Paltz’s act, one wrapper at a time.