It’s a sight Esteban Paine sees every day on his commute across the Matanuska River Bridge.

“'Justin is a cheater and a loser,'” he read the spray-painted message. “For three years, apparently Justin’s never come down here and tried to paint over that,” he laughed.

The bases of both bridges have been vandalized over the years, and Paine has made it his mission to beautify the area.

“You cross this bridge and you look out at one of the best views in the Valley and they don’t want to see trash; they don’t want to see a mess,” he said.

Last year, he organized the Matanuska River Bridge Cleanup Group which painted over a large section of its south side.

“We picked up two trailer loads of trash. Then we sat down and talked shop about what we could do to make the area better,” Paine said.

One problem people noticed this spring is squatters, who moved into a pullout on the south side of the bridge for several weeks.

(Courtesy: Esteban Paine) Several rundown campers were parked at this pullout for weeks this spring. DOT responded to concerns by adding concrete barriers to prevent people from driving all the way in.

Palmer city councilor Sabrena Combs said some people using the nearby bike path didn’t feel safe traveling so close to questionable activity.

“I have no issues with people camping there for short periods of time but when it becomes a health issue as far as raw sewage, trash collection, drug activity and not caring about the area you’re around, that’s an issue for anyone,” she said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities responded to the community concerns by putting in three sets of bright yellow, concrete barriers to block access to the more hidden spots.

“It’s a lookout point and so putting the barriers in place, making sure people are there short-term, they can access the trails and access the old bridge, that’s all really all we need,” Combs said. “So the barriers will help a lot in controlling the traffic that goes down there and the traffic that stays down there.”

Paine said the barriers are a major improvement. He’s hoping the community cleanup will make the riverbanks an even more inviting place as well.

“You know what's really fun is seeing the kids out here helping. We’re teaching to volunteer and take control and make their surroundings a better place,” Paine said.

The cleanup is Sunday, May 19 beginning at 2 p.m.

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