Highland Lakes Helpers: Hill Country Litter Lifters make a clean sweep
Hill Country Litter Lifters recently picked up 15 large bags of trash in two hours along Max Starke Dam Road in Marble Falls, the first project of what founder Tom Rapp hopes will be many. The 75-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, retired school administrator, and former organizer for Keep Thornton (Colorado) Beautiful, wants to do the same for other parts of the Highland Lakes — with an ulterior motive.
“It’s really not about picking up trash. It’s about building up community,” said Rapp, who moved to Marble Falls in 2020. “That’s the heart of what I hope will come out of this. Not just clean roads, but if you’re from Marble Falls, you care about Kingsland and Kingsland cares about Marble Falls. That’s what makes this area so special.”
About 11 volunteers worked with Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Department staff to clean Max Starke Dam Road on a Saturday morning in April. Rapp’s idea is to organize area-wide cleanups in the spring and fall to prepare for seasonal visitors and then clean again after they leave. The group would work with municipalities, which would provide supplies and disposal.
“It wouldn’t have to happen on the same day,” Rapp explained. “Let’s say we dedicate April as a cleanup month and all the cities get involved. They can have different cleanups on different days throughout the month.”
Rapp’s main focus would be on rural and city roadways rather than the highways, which are mostly handled by the Texas Department of Transportation. Rural roads are safer to work and need just as much attention. Litter Lifters also would be available to cities to supplement staff efforts in specific areas.
“A bunch of small projects can add up and make a big difference,” he said.
Small walks also build up. Rapp treks 4 miles round trip along Max Starke Dam Road almost every morning. He realized that, in a year, he marched out the equivalent of a trip to Denver with a detour through Pueblo, New Mexico, along the way.
Thornton, Colorado, on the north side of Denver, set the stage for Rapp’s community cleanup philosophy. When the city announced it wanted to start a large community garden, Rapp came up with an alternate plan.
“I said, ‘Instead of one big garden, why not put smaller gardens on church properties all around the city,’” Rapp said. “That way, the gardens are in neighborhoods and the neighborhoods can take care of them. The idea was to put most of the produce into the food bank system.”
One garden turned into 20 gardens in five different cities that produced around 7 tons of donated produce during the spring/summer growing season.
“I used to say, ‘We just grow veggies to kill time, but what we’re really doing is raising community,’” he said. “In the same way, when we are picking up trash, we are killing time and building up community over something we can all agree on.”
For Rapp, that’s an added benefit.
“The best part is watching people that may never have even come together rally around a cause,” he said. “It’s a simple cause, and they find out in the process that we all have more in common than different. We can find common ground picking trash up off the ground.”
Rapp has a next project in mind. He wants to pick up trash around the new transitional housing units currently being remodeled by the Highland Lakes Crisis Network on Village Circle, a development along Second Street between Avenues N and S in Marble Falls. Parks and Recreation is suggesting they also clean around the shores of Lake Marble Falls, which tend to accumulate a lot of trash.
“There’s no shortage of places that need to be picked up,” said Rapp, adding that cleaning an area helps keep it clean. “I’ve noticed that, if it’s trashy, it accumulates more trash. One soda or beer can accumulates more buddies along the way.”
Cleaning builds civic pride that radiates through the community. He wants to get youth groups, churches, clubs, families, and area businesses to join in with the individual volunteers.
“This is a great opportunity to tackle an issue we can all agree on and, possibly, in the process, begin to address some of the other issues that tend to divide us along artificial lines,” he said. “What makes us a community is when we start caring about each other. Part of that is as easy as not dumping trash on the roads, which detracts from the area’s beauty. That’s something we can all agree on.”
Although Rapp says the area has plenty of ways to properly dispose of trash, litter will always find its way into public spaces. For that, Litter Lifters soon will be by to pick it up.
“However,” Rapp said, “the ultimate goal of Litter Lifters is to put ourselves out of business.”
To get involved with Litter Lifters, email Rapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or text him at 303-887-5649.