Up to 25 volunteers signed waivers and were given safety vests and water as they spent most of Saturday morning picking up trash on Highway 169 between Magdalena and Alamo.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photos

It was over 25 years ago that the New Mexico Department of Transportation first introduced its “Toss No Mas” anti-littering campaign. But in spite of all the publicity, DOT officials say that highway trash pickup is still “like a never ending battle.”

To relieve this to a small degree Magdalena’s Laurie Ware, a teacher at Alamo Community School organized an Earth Day cleanup of Highway 169 last Saturday. Ware said up to 25 volunteers started scouring several miles up down the highway, with some staying well past the event’s noon ending.

At the end of the four-hour period, 1,140 pounds of litter had been picked up by volunteers.

“Highway 169 is the only paved road into Alamo, and over this past year due to Covid, I have seen all too many friends, colleagues, students and their family members in processions driving this road to bury family. It’s been heartbreaking to say the very least,” Ware said. “So when Earth Day came around this year, and Covid restrictions were loosening a bit, I thought what better way to honor the community during Earth Day as a symbol of beautification, renewal, and healing –  than to clean up this highway that is used so much and holds so much more meaning to me than ‘just a road’ now.”

San Antonio residents Kathryn and Bear Albrecht worked well past noon on Saturday bagging up litter near mile marker 14 on Highway 169.

She initially wanted the cleanup to include the highway all the way to mile marker 29, the turn-off to the reservation’s chapter house. However, “with the Navajo community, like the rest of us, not completely in the clear, non-Alamo residents are not allowed to visit in large numbers, and therefore cannot clean up along that stretch of road,” she said.

The most common items thrown to the side of the road were plastic bottles, and “a lot of broken glass, like from Cinnamon Whiskey. Also items like Grizzly Tobacco.”

County Commissioner Ray Martinez was on hand, supporting the effort with donations of water, and Sofia’s Kitchen pitched in with an abundance cache of breakfast burritos.

“I would like to thank Laurie for putting this together. I’d like to thank the DOT, the county, and all the volunteers that came out here.

“We need to do this more often,” Martinez said. “There’s so much trash and we need to make the people aware that if we don’t keep our land clean, it’s just going to get dirtier.”

Martinez said the habit of not littering should start early.

“We need to teach our kids not to litter. You know, that’s the most important. There’s so much trash,” he said. “We’ve got a beautiful beautiful country, you know, the Land of Enchantment. We need to take care of it.”

Alamo residents Roger Apachito and Frida Guerro, spent most of Saturday morning picking up litter and refuse, and feel it’s the responsibility of community members to do their part to maintain the beauty of the area.

“I think we need to keep it clean all the time,” Apachito said. “When I see it, you know, it’s sad for people to see a lot of trash on the road.”

Ware said there was one unexpected payoff connected with the task of picking up trash.

“After you pick up a few things you start noticing the grasses that are out here, the plants that are out here. The smells that are out here,” she said. “You have to pause. It was a different connection that I wish that, if you drive down this road you would see that instead of the metal shining in the sun, and the broken glass you see off the side of the road. I just hope we can all start to appreciate what we have, because it’s not just this highway, it’s highways all over.”

Ware said on Monday she was taking two large bags full of glass, two bags of aluminum, and a bag of plastic to be recycled.

Martinez said the event couldn’t have happened without the help and involvement of the DOT, community members and sponsors, including Magdalena Custom Woodworks, LLC; Sofia’s Kitchen, Cricket Courtney; NMDOT, Greg Long, Len and Joan Truesdell, Magdalena Cafe, and Ronna Kalish, as well as the Board of County COmmissioners and Socorro County Detention Center.