As a Boy Scout in the 1970s, I spent several weekends helping cleanup crews haul decades worth of junk out of streams and woods throughout Central Kentucky.
I couldn't understand why people would trash such beautiful places. Did they not know any better? Were there not more environmentally friendly ways to get rid of stuff?
Things have improved since then, but not without a lot of hard work.
One organization behind much of that hard work is Bluegrass PRIDE, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday with a bluegrass concert featuring JD Crowe and the New South and Balsam Range. (The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall. For details and tickets, visit Bgpride.org.)
Bluegrass PRIDE — the acronym stands for Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment — is an 18-county non-profit organization modeled after a similar PRIDE organization that works in 38 counties in eastern and southern Kentucky.
Bluegrass PRIDE has facilitated a lot of cleanup projects with more than $1 million in grants over the past decade, many secured with help from Central Kentucky's congressmen over that period, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Ben Chandler.
"The grants were much-needed," said Executive Director Amy Sohner, who directs Bluegrass PRIDE's staff of 16 from a bare-bones office in suburban Lexington. "They allowed communities to do a lot of things that needed to get done."
More recently, though, the organization has shifted its focus to environmental education. "We try to help average people learn about small changes they can make that could make a big difference in improving the environment," Sohner said.
Among those activities: litter reduction and cleanup; recycling of hazardous household waste; road and stream cleanup projects; helping individuals, businesses and cities learn how to build rain gardens to reduce storm runoff; and selling rain barrels to recycle water.
"With rain barrels, we've almost put ourselves out of a job," Sohner said. "We used to be one of the few places that had them. Now, even Sam's Club sells them."
Among other things, Bluegrass PRIDE figures it has helped Central Kentuckians recycle 1,200 pounds of batteries and 4,200 cellphones, and properly dispose of 77,500 gallons of old paint.
Much of Bluegrass PRIDE's funding now comes from Lexington's government, which has hired the organization to manage the Live Green Lexington Partner Program. That effort enlisted 350 businesses, 130 apartment complexes and 100 schools in a variety of environmental activities that range from proper disposal of used cooking oil to helping the Fayette County Public Schools save $4,600 a month in trash fees through increased recycling.
Bluegrass PRIDE has worked with more than 230 schools throughout the region on environmental education tied to core-content curriculum. It also has furnished home-energy audit kits that Lexington residents can check out from public libraries. The kits include equipment to identify energy loss in homes to save energy — and money.
As Bluegrass PRIDE begins its second decade, Sohner hopes to spread many of the projects pioneered in Lexington throughout the region. She also hopes to use unpaid coordinators in each county to identify local needs the organization can help fill.
"I feel like we do a very good job in Lexington," Sohner said. "But I really want to be able to serve our other 17 counties more."
Fayette Alliance's fifth
While Central Kentuckians have become better at cleaning up after themselves, they also have learned that suburban sprawl is bad for the environment — not to mention taxpayers, who must pay for construction and maintenance of far-flung infrastructure.
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the Fayette Alliance, a non-profit organization that has made a big difference in reducing sprawl and promoting better land-use management in Lexington.
The Fayette Alliance celebrates its anniversary Oct. 6 with a party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at its office, 603 West Short Street in Lexington. The event is free and open to the public.
In addition to refreshments and birthday cake, artist Bill Fletcher will be painting a special work that will be auctioned at a future event to benefit the Fayette Alliance.