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Portola Improvement Coalition (PIC) founders Allison Cairns and Kevin Walsh strike a pose during a clean-up day in Portola.

New group forms to beautify area

The logo of the newly formed PIC, the Portola Improvement Coalition.

When Kevin Walsh and Allison Cairns decided to make Portola their home two years ago, they came for the alpine setting of the Lost Sierra, and quickly fell in love with the natural beauty in the rural community.

Walsh grew up in Carson City and also lived in Reno for some time. “I love that area, but always wanted to live in an alpine setting,” Walsh explained.

“Someone told me I should check out the Lost Sierra, which I had never really considered as a place to live. I fell in love with Portola immediately. My wife Allison, who I had met while living in Australia, came to America to join me here in Lost Sierra two years ago, and this place exceeded her expectations.”

In an effort to preserve the beauty of the place they’ve chosen to call home, the duo decided that it was time to give back by picking up trash in public spaces.

“Portola is such an incredible place to live with all of the natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities,” Walsh said. “It’s discouraging to move into such a community to discover piles of trash in yards, along the backstreets and illegally dumped in wilderness areas.

“I’ve been involved in the successful organization of other volunteer clean-up efforts and Allison Cairns and I believed we could make a difference. I’m a lawyer and she’s a great strategic planner with skills in social media. The name, Portola Improvement Coalition, or PIC, was perfect. Our tag line is “PIC it up Portola!”

PIC wants to make the proper disposal of trash a part of a clean city culture in Portola, and has already gotten hands on, with a focus on strengthening relationships between the grassroots organization and the city, as well as encouraging community involvement and action.

“Recently Allison and I were cleaning in the Gravel Grinder River Walk Camping Area,” Walsh said. “We discovered a large amount of trash that had gone mostly unnoticed because of a thicket and spring run-off. The area had been used as an illegal dump site. PIC was looking fast for a solution with the Gravel Grinder on June 1.”

Todd Roberts, director of Public Works for the city, responded to the call for help, and Walsh gratefully noted the arrival of workers in rubber boots to assist in removing the unsightly garbage from the camping area. “PIC is a great new organization that has begun to assist the city with garbage pickup and beautification,” Roberts said of the group.

“The trash problem is not just a government problem. It’s a community problem,” Walsh emphasized. “We can create synergy with the government. If we are truly pursuing our objectives in partnership with local government, we should be smart business partners. Rather than always relying on the city we should seek outside resources whenever possible. This will help extend our partner’s resources so more money can be applied to the cause. Private resources are available because business owners and good citizens hate garbage.”

PIC understands that California has stringent environmental regulations, with Walsh going on to say, “Of course these well intended regulations seek to protect the environment. Compliance with regulation, however, is costly. The increased cost is usually passed onto the consumer by disposal services. The result is illegal dumping to avoid disposal fees. It’s ironic that legislative efforts to protect the environment would have a boom-a-rang affect like this.”

Walsh also feels that there are economic drivers behind the trash problem. “We’ve noticed a lot of trash in public spaces that border businesses. These businesses can make their premises more appealing by taking stewardship of nearby public areas.”

Kurt Flewell, left, and Kyle Tobener pick up trash May 9 at the River Walk camping area.

PIC is taking a look at green waste as well, with the opinion that green waste is a big problem in public spaces. “It’s unsightly, adds to wildfire fuels and has a range of other negative impacts. That’s bad enough. It’s even more offensive when the green waste dumper leaves it in plastic bags. We see this a lot,” Walsh said. “You can tell a great deal about the people who litter by what they leave behind.”

Thus far, the PIC has discovered that the majority of trash found around Portola is from food and drink packaging. Most of it is from highly processed, ready to open and consume items.

“Bears often take trash from cans and carry it onto public areas or adjacent properties and leave a mess after tearing open the bags. Life in the mountains requires some personal responsibility when it comes to securing the garbage we produce from wildlife,” Walsh added.  “Unfortunately, these lazy practices have made some bears dependent on trash while adding to the garbage problem.”

PIC is optimistic, however, as the movement begins to pick up momentum. “The character of the city is changing as more people discover the area,” Walsh stated. “That may not be good news for some people, but by working together we can shape whatever is emerging into something positive.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to is supportive. I’m finding that a lot of newcomers and longtime residents want to help the cause — sometimes all it takes is a bit of organizing. Everyone has something they can contribute to the improvement of Portola. For some it may be helping develop the strategy, for others is may be picking up garbage.”

PIC is actively recruiting volunteers for regular clean-up events, generally held on Saturday mornings. “We also want information from the public concerning the trash situation,” Walsh said. “Let us know where rubbish has been illegally dumped or is accumulating.”

PIC plans on reporting on their findings to the city, after continuing to study the issue.

“By helping PIC understand the problem you can help resolve the problem. As PIC becomes more developed, we will need officers, directors and members for the contemplated nonprofit corporation. During these early stages we want to hear the thoughts and concerns of the community,” Walsh noted.

Thus far, Walsh is pleased with the overall public response to PIC. “We’ve had two businesses, Sierra Energy & Squeeze Burger and the Sierra Motel help us with the problem of disposal fees. We’re also collaborating with The Hub Gym and supported them in their recent Adopt-A-Highway cleanup. … Our support is also growing as word gets out. We have about a dozen solid supporters at this time. I can’t think of a single person who hasn’t expressed support. The community is definitely ready for PIC.”

Members of the PIC will be taking action at the upcoming Lost and Found Gravel Grinder bike race as well, with Cairns and Walsh signed on to “PIC it up” throughout the event weekend in the city park and outlying camp sites in the city.

“We’re excited by the opportunity to show our visitors what a great place Portola is,” Walsh smiled. “We’ll be at the event helping manage trash disposal. Anyone who wants to help PIC at the event should contact us.”

PIC has a page, Portola Improvement Coalition, where constructive comments are welcome and also serves as the most up-to-date source on PIC activities. Text messages may also be sent to 775-502-6119.

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