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Cleaning up roadways critical quality of life, development issue

Despite the traditional Easter dip in our recent run of nearly perfect spring weather, it’s difficult to imagine how the past month or so of sunny and warm days could have been more enjoyable.

Combine the great weather with the early arrival of Daylight Saving Time, and you have a mini-boom in business for outdoor rec retailers, home and garden centers and just about any bar or restaurant with an inviting deck or patio.v
Several weeks ago, MBJ contributor Lynn Lofton talked to a few folks about business this time of year. Joshua Gordon, manager of the Indian Cycle Store in Ridgeland, told her that, “It certainly helps our business. Now people are able to get out and start riding bikes after work. Then they need more accessories, and we sell more of those along with more bicycles.”

And if you’re traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway after work, you’re likely to see dozens of cyclists and runners savoring spring and a good sweat — with a spectacular view of blooming azaleas, dogwood and more. If we’re willing to take the time, breaking free from the congested interstates around Jackson and taking a more scenic route home from work can be a pleasant diversion.

Unfortunately, there is a nagging problem that’s riding along.

Beautiful, but…

Mississippi is a beautiful state. Rolling hills. The Delta expanse. A scarred but splendorous Coast. Very special places and natural spaces.

But here’s the but: litter is out of control. And it isn’t confined to any one area. Take the Natchez Trace — one of the country’s most interesting national parks (yes, it’s a park — not an expressway — but that’s another column).

I can walk out my back door, through the woods and hit the Trace for a run or ride in less than a minute. It’s a great escape that I share with thousands of travelers every year. I’ve frequently thought that the Trace is one of Mississippi’s great ambassadors to the world. Visitors experience it and can’t help but think well of this place, right?

And then I notice the beer cans or the fast-food wrappers or plastic bags or any other assortment of litter. Good impression? Not so much.

And the Trace is diligent in its efforts to keep things clean, but who can keep up?

Cruise around a few of the major streets in Jackson or country backroads and you’ll see far worse: furniture, piles of rotten wood, bottles, clothing, toilets (I am not making this up), auto parts. And on I could go, but won’t. You’ve seen it. You know it’s a mess out there.

Taking care of the trash

So, what’s the impact of the debris, litter and garbage fouling our landscape? Plenty, especially on overall quality of life, as well as on business and economic development.

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) turned its attention to the roadside litter problem. Held annually, the goal of MDOT’s Trash Bash is to raise awareness of the detrimental effects that litter has on the economy. According to the agency, Mississippi’s litter rate is 30% higher than the national average.

In a news release, MDOT stated that more than $2 million is spent every year on cleaning up rights of way and that doesn’t include the “immeasurable dollars [that] are lost in tourism and economic development.”

If we can’t take care of the trash, can we expect folks to think we can take care of business? Would you invest in a bunch of slobs? That might not be the absolute reality, but the perception is there, and it’s up to us to change it.
Impressive efforts have been launched over the years to help us clean up Mississippi. Pat Fordice’s anti-litter ads were great. Too bad that more of us didn’t get the message to pick it up.

Hopefully, these campaigns will pay off in the long run, but it will also take individual efforts to make a difference.
So, when you’re out enjoying the spring for the next few weeks, keep a trash bag handy and pick up your part. It’ll be good for business and great for Mississippi.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.


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