By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Lee Roland believes there is enough community spirit and pride in Northeast Mississippi to accomplish something Congress and the White House have refused to do since a government shutdown three weeks ago: clean up the Natchez Trace.

Because of the shutdown, there are only four workers to maintain and keep clean the 445-miles of the national park.

"Around most of the exits, it's getting pretty bad," Gordon Wissinger, chief ranger for the Natchez Trace, said of the litter problem. "To some people it might not look too bad, but others are appalled. They say they've never seen it look that way before."

Roland was one of those. A park ranger himself at Trace State Park in Pontotoc County, he said he got the idea for a volunteer cleanup effort while driving up the Trace after a trip to Biloxi recently.

"I drive it a lot and I just realized that the trash hasn't been being picked up," Roland said. "The Trace helps us out a lot on our projects when we have kids out here, and we just have good cooperation with them. Something needed to be done. The federal government dropped the ball, but I think there are enough citizens out there with enough pride in the Trace to help."

To that end, Roland and the parks program director for Pontotoc, Kay Stewart, have planned a citizen cleanup of the Trace around Tupelo for Saturday.

"We are hoping to get some 4-H clubs and Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups, and we may just open it up and see how many volunteers we can get," Roland said.

The effort would have to be strictly voluntary since Trace officials can't lift a finger even to haul off the trash the volunteers collect.

"We cannot sponsor such an activity," Wissinger said. "But we're extremely supportive and very impressed that people would want to do that, that they would take that much pride in the Trace. I certainly hope it does happen."

Roland said tentative plans, depending on the weather, call for volunteers to meet at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Trace headquarters parking lot. He said he hopes he has enough volunteers to split into 10 groups of 10 people with each group working one mile of the parkway starting at the intersection of Palmetto Road and working north.

The tentative time for the actual litter pickup would be from 10 a.m. until noon, Roland said.

Anyone interested in helping with the effort should contact Stewart at 489-1882.

Roland said he needs to know in advance how many volunteers he will have in order to round up an appropriate number of garbage bags and trucks to haul the trash away.

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