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Litter is no little problem here

Sheriff trash pickup to ramp up in spring

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Damon Howell / Photo

Mike Haviland doing more than his share of roadside trash pickup on Smokey Hollow Road. He attributes the 68 bags of litter gathered last week to the 2.5 mile stretch of road never being picked up before.

At least twice a month Mike Haviland gets up-close and personal with a widespread litter problem that’s trashing county roadsides. In the last five years, Haviland, an Adopt-A-Road volunteer, has picked up 950 bags of garbage along Pickens Street and Apple Orchard Lane in Nelson – but he recently deviated from his routine. 

The trash warrior set his sights on the junked-up Smokey Hollow Road in Tate where he collected 68 bags, or about one for every 30 feet of roadway, as well as 11 bags on Headstart Road in the same area. That volume is

considerably more than he gathers in Nelson, but “those areas probably had never been picked up before. Plus, there are only two houses on Smokey Hollow so people can dump without thinking they’ll get caught.”   

But even on the roads he has adopted, which he’s diligent about keeping tidy, the garbage seems to regenerate overnight.  

“It’s unending,” he said. “You get it cleaned and go back and it’s trashed again. I don’t get it. Is there no pride? It’s very disheartening.”   

The nearly 70 bags along Smokey Hollow were filled with items he collected just inside the right-of-way. They didn’t include trash people throw down embankments that can’t been seen by motorists - larger items like electronics and furniture, along with standards like drink cups, bottles, food containers, and lotto tickets. He points down an embankment to a television.

“It’s like a dump,” Haviland said. “It’s unbelievable.” 

Countywide problem 


Smokey Hollow and Headstart aren’t the only areas in Pickens that look more like dumpsters than roadsides. While not an agenda item at the regular commissioners’ meeting, Pickens County Commissioner Becky Denney mentioned that she has been receiving a large number of calls about litter, and asked the head of the road department what entity tends county roads (Georgia DOT is responsible for state routes.)

Kim Quinton pointed to the sheriff’s office, which took on responsibility for trash pick-up several years ago through their inmate worker program. In a later interview, Quinton said his department has a limited number of employees and that with paving, mowing, gravel, and other duties, “we just don’t have the manpower for trash.” 

Pickens County Sheriff Public Information Officer Capt. Kris Stancil said their office took on the responsibility not in any official capacity, but “because we saw a need.” In regard to the high volume of complaints, he said residents can expect to see inmates out more this spring. 

“It’s been extremely cold this winter, then we had a couple of nice days, then came monsoon season and it has rained almost every day,” Stancil said. “Certain working conditions have to exist, but we will be getting out now that it’s going to warm up.”   

Still, the inmate crew is small, anywhere between three and four at a time, and “one crew and hundreds of miles of road is a lot to cover.”

These crews work on other projects, too, such as firewood delivery for the indigent in winter and events for non-profits and other groups. 

The crew pinpoints the worst roads in the county and work their way down. The “hot zones” that receive the most complaints are Philadelphia Road, Camp Road, Jones Mountain Road, and Cove Road. 

“It’s not science, we just look at the roads with the heaviest need and go there,” Stancil said. 

The sheriff’s inmate crew also works closely with Keep Pickens Beautiful, the non-profit that, through volunteers like Mike Haviland, helps keep roads clean.  

Still, Keep Pickens Beautiful Board member Carol Opdenhoff backs up the high number of resident complaints with hard numbers. Last year, Adopt-A-Road volunteers collected 440 bags of garbage in the 133 miles that are currently adopted, or three 30 gallon bags per mile picked up. The sheriff’s office collected 1,394 bags and 167 tires. 

Both Haviland and Opdenhoff said they have lived in other areas of the country, and that litter is significantly worse in Pickens County.

“It’s a privilege to live here,” Opdenhoff said. “It’s such a beautiful place and I don’t understand why people would want to trash it.” 


What to do? 


In Georgia, anyone caught littering can be charged with a misdemeanor and, if found guilty, can be punished by a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000, according to the Official Code of Georgia. The law not only covers trash thrown from windows, but requires loads to be secured in truck beds to keep items from flying out of the back. 

But despite the law, and “no littering” signs posted to alert motorists, it is difficult to enforce. 

“You see the trash on the road, but it’s nearly impossible to catch someone in the act,” Capt. Stancil said.  “People don’t litter when a deputy car is around.”

Stancil said the county marshal has investigated some dump sites where larger quantities of trash, including full bags, are left. The marshal will try to find identifying information from the garbage, such as old mail with names and addresses and pursue a citation. 

Opdenhoff thinks there needs to be more done to catch litterers.  She suggested installing a camera on Philadelphia Road between Highway 515 and Talking Rock Highway to catch people in the act, then have the county marshal issue citations. 

“That road is the worst in the county,” she said. “People get their fast food and eat it in the car, then dump it there where there aren’t houses. It needs a camera because if there isn’t any kind of monetary consequence and real threat of being caught people aren’t going to stop.” 

Get involved


If you would like to lend a hand and help mitigate the county’s trash problem, consider becoming a volunteer with Keep Pickens Beautiful Adopt-A-Road program by contact their office at 706-253-3600 or visiting them at