Volunteers on a mission to clean up Mat-Su highways
Mat-Su Valley commuters may only see Anthony Schmidt for a split second as they drive by, but every spring he’ll spend most of his days along the Parks Highway.
"When it gets nicer I’ll be out here eight, nine, 10 hours,” Schmidt said.
He’s made it his mission to clean up the mess others have left behind.
"It’s such a beautiful state. Look at this view,” he gestured toward Pioneer Peak. "You come down his hill out of Wasilla, you see Knik Glacier and all the mountains and you look down and see all this trash in the ditch.”
Volunteering to pick up garbage is basically his full-time job now.
"I used to own Triple D Farm and Hatchery, a poultry business. We’d ship baby chicks all over the state,” Schmidt explained. "The economy killed me and left me in a mountain of debt. Shortly after that my health went south.”
It was a diagnosis of diabetes and a doctor’s order to exercise that led him to the litter.
"When I started walking I thought I might as well pick this crap up,” Schmidt said.
He started small, cleaning the area around his home. Now he works the five-mile stretch from the Seward Meridian Parkway to the Glenn interchange.
"We say we’ve found everything in the ditch except a gun or a body,” he laughed.
Schmidt’s not doing this alone, though.
Mac McPherson is retired from the military. Pollution has always been a pet peeve of his, so one day he decided to pitch in.
"I was driving from here to Trunk road, going to take my fill to the landfill. I saw him on the side and pulled over and introduced myself and we’ve been going ever since,” McPherson said.
That first year, the pair picked up an estimated 20,000 pounds.
“Needles, lots of tiny liquor bottles,” Schmidt listed off. "I found someone’s dental records. The whole thing, X-rays and everything."
In just their first week back at it this year, they’re already at 3,500 pounds.
"We had over 1,000 pounds one day alone,” McPherson said.
The two know their efforts don’t go unnoticed. Everyone once in a while, someone will drop off a small token of appreciation, like a gift card or lunch.
“There are nice people out there. But our benefit it is we like to see it cleaned up. The other stuff is just extra,” Schmidt said as a passerby honked in support.
McPherson said he enjoys finishing the day, knowing they’ve made a difference.
“Look at all these clean roads and look at these mountains that go with it,” he said.
Together they’re making Alaska a little bit more beautiful, one bag of trash at a time.
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