In January 2016 the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart parish decided to make some contribution to Pope Francis' Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment. After checking with CDOT, the parish found that there were a number of miles of highway that had no volunteer cleanup activity. Realizing that the interstates were off limits and that Highway 96 west toward Wetmore and Westcliffe had some open miles, the parish decided to pick up trash starting at mile marker 49 and going west for two miles to mile marker 47 on State Highway 96. After viewing the highway department's videos regarding things they had to beware of such as needles, meth lab refuse, snakes and other creatures, they went on the first pickup, the day after Earth Day, a good coincidence. The volunteers collected 36 bags of trash, some of it car parts, paper products, bottles of all kinds, little shot containers for alcohol and plenty of beer cans. Some of the cans were from an ancient age like perhaps from the beginning of the Coors dynasty. The most trash was from the littlest things: cigarette butts and those Styrofoam packaging materials that spread out like peanuts from Hades. So far volunteers haven't found much money, but if any is ever found and it's not returnable, it goes to the parish building maintenance fund.
Intriguing items found were old cell phones. While they did not pick up a workable cell phone on this trip, Fr. Jim did tell the group of one that he picked up in Durango a few years ago. Surprisingly, the phone turned on and went to a text message. The message was, "Honey, is the wedding still on?" There was a general feeling among the crew that this message may have been discarded along with the phone. While they group hasn't found anything quite that personal in the Pueblo area, they are well aware of the surprises that can be found in the ditch.
The group believes progress is being made. During the second pickup volunteers collected 18 sacks of trash, one half of the amount of the first one. The third pickup date is September 10 at 9 a.m. They anticipate finding fewer bags this time. Not only do they feel as though they're helping bolster Pope Francis' wish that they help the planet, the group also receives kudos from people passing by. Some yell out "thank you" or "good job." Getting some thanks from the public is helpful but not necessary.
Perhaps other parishes would want to do this activity as well. Contests anyone? Who can pick up the most trash? Whatever we can do to help keep our parish highways clean is a gift that we can keep on giving. If another parish is interested in entering in a challenge with the Cathedral, they may be reached at (719)544-5175.
If anyone has any connection at the highway department, the Cathedral asks for help getting the department to put up the sign with the Cathedral's name on it, as the highway department indicates that they are way behind in their signage. Signs aren't that necessary but having the Cathedral name out there may inspire others to do the same thing on other sections of our highways.
The parish's hope is that they can do more to keep the place looking decent. "Care of the planet is care of all who live on it."