TURNAGAIN PASS, Alaska — While Alaskans were having fun or relaxing during the long Memorial Day weekend, Jeanne Follett was busy cleaning up after the rest of us.
With a litter gripper in one hand and a bright yellow trash bag in the other, Follett climbed up and down a steep embankment along the Seward Highway in Turnagain Pass Sunday afternoon, patiently picking up every scrap of litter she could find.
Her mission to fight litter began 13 years ago. "After my husband died, I had all this time on my hands, and I'd always picked up litter around my neighborhood, and I just started going and I realized that I really liked it," Follett said.
She started near her home in Moose Pass. "When I got to Tern Lake, I said 'Well, it's only 10 miles to Summit (Lake)...I wonder if I could make it that far?'" she said.
When she reached that goal, she just kept going. "I got to Summit (Lake), and I said 'Gee...you know, it's 10 miles to Hope...I could probably make it that far.'"
She didn't stop there, either. She kept picking up litter, mile after mile, until she reached Ingram Creek. That's 46 miles away from her home in Moose Pass.
"I do the first four miles of the Sterling Highway, also", Follett added with pride.
She does this one-woman clean-up campaign every summer. One year, she collected 801 bags of trash.
Follett finds a lot of strange and unusual items along the way. "Clothing, really nice, expensive jackets. Wallets and credit cards. If I can, I try to find the owner and get it back to them," she said.
She does the same with the electronics she finds. "Sometimes, I find cameras, lots of cell phones. I found a Blackberry one time that belonged to guy somewhere in the Midwest, and I got that back to him."
She also finds items that are disturbing along the road and in pull-offs. "Syringes...I have a plastic soda bottle full of syringes," Follett said.
Why does she spend most of her summer doing this? "I like the way it looks after it's done, and I really hate litter. I've always hated litter," Follett said.
Follett says she knows many of the things she finds are dropped by accident, but she has little respect for litter bugs who do it intentionally. "It just seems to me that people who do this are disrespectful of the country," she said.
It's hard work, but for Jeanne Follett, there is a hidden benefit. "I just had a bone density test, and I have the bone density of a young woman. I'm 76 years old, and if I still have that, this walking is awful good for me," she said with a chuckle.
Jeanne says Alaska Department of Transportation crews pick up the trash bags after she's done.
So far this summer, she's picked up 373 bags of litter. She says she's taking June off because of prior commitments, but she'll be back out there in July, keeping her part of Alaska nice and tidy.