MY ROAD TO BEING A PICKUP ARTIST-A TRASHY STORY ~ Dave Bianchi
Just this morning I headed out of my house armed with a flashlight since it was still dark outside when I started on my walk along with a plastic bag and my trusty pick up stick. Tuesdays are always a great day since it’s garbage day, so I have plenty of places to deposit the trash I find alongside the road and on the sidewalks or on the lawns that I pass by. It’s great exercise plus I help keep the neighborhood clean. I even do my own economic analysis, for example, among those folks who can’t seem to hang onto their trash until they find a proper receptacle, Marlboro cigarettes are the most popular brand. McDonald’s containers beat out Wendy’s and Jack-in-the-Box. The majority of the plastic bags that get hung up on most anything mostly come from Wal Mart. I don’t know what the brand of the bottled water containers are, but I’m always amazed that many still have water in them, sometimes even full. And what about the one glove, a pair of socks or a lonely shoe. Where’s the other shoe?
So, how did I become so obsessed with trash that it drives me crazy to see it alongside the road? I know part of it is culture. I don’t recall my parents ever throwing trash out their car windows. If you went out into the desert or into the mountains, you always took out what you brought in. A simple concept. At 4-H camp growing up and in the military as an adult, we were constantly picking up the area for even the smallest piece of trash. But, I got into the trashy business big time in 1988 when a bunch of Chamber of Commerce types decided that the citizens of Reno needed to take a hard look at all aspects of our community and do a study. They formed “The Biggest Little City Committee” and put together several subcommittees. I was asked to chair a group to analyze the cleanliness of our community. They put the word out to the entire area that anyone was welcome to participate. I ended up with a very diverse group from all walks of life. After a couple of meetings someone said, we really aren’t interested in doing a study, what we should be doing is going out and cleaning up the area.” Simultaneously, another subgroup dealing with parks was having a similar discussion. An alert person heard both conversations and suggested the two groups get together. So, Dave Pressler, Reno’s Parks Director and I met and decided to move forward with a cleanup project and we called it “The Community-Wide Cleanup and Adopt a Park Day.” Quite a mouthful. Not only that it would be a big undertaking.
In the meantime, another member of the Biggest Little City Committee, Rich Iori, who was heading up an organization called Downtown Renovation did some research and discovered that a few years prior the City of Reno had paid a fee to be affiliated with a national organization entitled Keep America Beautiful. We snagged onto that and decided to create a local affiliate and call it Western Nevada Clean Communities. By now it was 1989 and we asked a local businessman with lots of connections, Bob Pearce, to be its first president. Another committee was formed, initial funding was provided by a grant from another new group, Truckee Meadows Tomorrow. The cities of Reno and Sparks and Washoe County threw in some cash as well. A part-time director, Idora Silver, was hired and away we went.
The word went out and we had a successful first project followed by a major picnic and celebration at Pickett Part. Bertha and Tina, the elephants from the Nugget came to entertain along with clowns and other entertainers from Circus Circus. Local dignitaries came and everyone was fed with plenty of food, beer, and sodas. At the end of the day, there was still a lot of beer left in the beer tank that was provided. We didn’t want to waste it, so we tried to finish it, but that’s another story! We did that again the following year and decided we were spending more time planning the picnic than we were the cleaning part. Also, our part-time director realized that this was going to be more than part-time work, so we put the word out for a full-time director. Alicia Reban who had just moved here from Texas had all the right credentials and what a great choice she was. She led the organization for several years until she helped start and was hired as the CEO of the Nevada Land Trust. I was elected the second president. Also, a few years in we made a decision to change the name since we were constantly confused with Western Nevada Community College. WNCC vs WNCC. Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful is now the organization that we all love and cherish.
After Alicia left we had a couple of rough spots when we hired two different Executive Directors who almost destroyed the organization. The board ran the office for a while until we found a young man, Wes Reid, who with his calm demeanor and honest approach righted the ship until he decided to return to school for his master’s in education. In 2002 he recommended Christie Cakiroglu and she has enthusiastically headed up the organization ever since. KTMB now has 4 full time, 2 part-time and 6 AmeriCorps volunteers crammed into their small office. They now manage a community-wide cleanup including illegal dump sites, Christmas tree recycling, Adopt-a-Spot sites, Truckee River Clean Up, Educational programs in the school district and to adults including Waste Warriors and Weed Warriors, oversee the Sensory Garden at Idlewild Park where the now sold out fundraiser is held each year, puts out a recycling guide and so much more. In addition, they initiated along with some partner organizations the One River Initiative to coordinate efforts at preserving and maintaining the Truckee River. That effort is about to spin off into a separate entity.
2019 will be the 30th anniversary and I’m proud to have been a past president, a board member two separate times and I still serve on a couple of committees. I was also honored as an Emeritus Board Member, the only person to receive such an honor so far. So, I’ll be out tomorrow morning with my bag and pick up stick doing my part to Keep the Truckee Meadows Beautiful.