We tend to invest in the seeds we sow.
"Take pride in what you do and the area you live and work," said Harold Altenburg, as he tends to his strawberry fields. The Wis. Rapids farmer is busy getting ready for his opening weekend of fall festivities. Altenburg's Country Gardens has been in the family since 1964, and this year, they're packing quite a show, complete with a pumpkin patch, corn maze and Halloween costume competition. But this isn't a story about the fruits of his labor, It's about what lies just beyond them: Garbage. Lots of garbage.
"That makes the area look not very good and down," Altenburg said.
Highway 54 residents like Altenburg are used to picking up after others. "Five-gallon pail full of trash," he said. "Once, twice a week, depends on what's there."
While some of the garbage along the 15 or so mile stretch linking Plover and Wis. Rapids is the typical soda can, most of the unsightliness is from large plastic bags like the ones packs of T-shirts come in.
"They're very light and they catch just a little bit of wind and they'll find their way out," Altenburg said.
"We can't particularly say what the problem is, who the problem is, where the problem's coming from," said Brent Matthews, the maintenance supervisor with the North Central division of the Wis. DOT.
Those familiar with the area, say they know what the problem is. Altenburg has seen it going on for "forever and a day." He blames the dozens of garbage and recycling trucks spilling over with junk.
There are several landfills and waste transport sites just off Hwy 54, including Portage Co. Solid Waste, Veolia ES Solid Waste Inc., A-Line Roll Off Services and JMB Logistics. Altenburg and others believe they're the biggest contributors.
So why is nothing being done about it?
"The top priority of the [Wis.] Department [of Transportation] is to address safety concerns," Matthews said. "With budget constraints, there's a limited time we can address trash or litter issues."
With resources already stretched, DOT clean up crews only go out once a year in the spring. The department also relies on volunteer efforts like Adopt-A-Highway. But that may change soon, after all, it's not even Sept. and the medians are already looking a lot less green.
"It is frustrating to not know where the trash is coming from and that there is a large amount of trash," Matthews said.
The Dept. plans to meet with the counties and businesses that use the road "sometime in the near future" to figure out what to do next.
Until then, "If I catch somebody that throws things out of the window," Altenburg warned, "I assure I will try to get their license number."
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