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N.C. Big Sweep event attracts over 150 volunteers

Nancy Corson Carter was a volunteer at Orange County’s N.C. Big Sweep event, picking up litter in the woods near Umstead Park.
Nancy Corson Carter was a volunteer at Orange County’s N.C. Big Sweep event, picking up litter in the woods near Umstead Park.

Sunny 70-degree weather almost doubled the number of volunteers at an annual litter clean-up from last year’s rainy event.

More than 150 people attended the N.C. Big Sweep on Saturday, said Wendy Smith, the Orange County Big Sweep coordinator. Smith also works with the town’s stormwater management division.

She said UNC fraternities, Cub Scouts, high school students, Triangle residents and whole families turned out for the event.

Burlington resident Joanne Shelley came to the sweep because Chapel Hill has more opportunities to get involved with the environment than her area.

“Alamance County is so far behind, and (cleaning up litter) is something that has to be done,” she said.

The 23-year-old statewide Big Sweep has attracted 290,000 volunteers during its history and has retrieved over 9.8 million pounds of litter.

Smith said she knows where to send sweep volunteers because areas near schools or heavy traffic are almost certain to have large amounts of litter.

“Litter is a huge problem,” Smith said. “Not only can it hurt wildlife, but it’s also an economic issue.

“People don’t want to go where it is dirty.”

Smith grew up in Indiana and has worked for Chapel Hill on-and-off for 15 years, starting in recycling.

Smith said one of her main jobs is to conduct presentations at local schools about how to protect area water.

“This is a career that I always wanted,” Smith said. “As we understand our environment, we tend to take better care of it.”

Smith said the stormwater management division just finished developing a grant with the UNC Institute for the Environment for restaurant training.

“We found that many people in the restaurant community do not realize storm drains lead directly to creeks, making our waterways infected with grease and wash water,” she said.

“Going to restaurants and training (them) is going to be a huge focus for this next year.”

Smith said cleanups can be arranged any time by contacting her through the stormwater management website.

“I work with groups throughout the year because litter isn’t just once a year like the Big Sweep event,” she said. “It is constant.”

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