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story.lead_photo.caption Darin Hackmann, of Taos, volunteered to help clean Memorial Park as part of the Earth Day celebration and community cleanup effort. Photo by Shaun Zimmerman

Driving into the city and seeing trash on the sides of the road or in public areas concerns local residents like Teresa Cook.

So Cook and about 20 others chose to do something about it Thursday afternoon and went to Memorial Park to pick up trash and clean the area.

In celebration of Earth Day, the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is hosting community trash pickups every Thursday in April.

This week's event brought out about 100 people to Memorial Park with some picking up trash and others enjoying Earth Day-themed activities such as building bird feeders.

Leann Porrello, cultural arts specialist, said the goal of the events is to help people make it a habit to pick up trash they see in their neighborhoods.

Between the first two events, more than 40 volunteers have collected more than 40 bags of trash, she said.

"We've seen an increase of it (trash) along the highways and in the parks, especially during the pandemic," she said. "It was easy for us to work together and get this kind of awareness out."

The cleanups are a partnership with Central Missouri Community Action.

Cook, who has attended one of the other events, said Memorial Park didn't seem as bad as other areas, but she still picked up more pieces of trash.

"This was more, but I covered a larger area," she said. "I think I picked up more cigarette butts than anything else in McKay Park. It was disgusting."

She spread the message to other people she knew and one, Cathy Hennessy, came out with her Thursday afternoon.

Hennessy, who's in real estate, said trash in the community can impact people's interest in moving to Jefferson City.

"If they're driving into Jeff City right now and looking along the highways, they're going to be going, 'Ew,'" Cook said.

The two said they've noticed trash in other areas, especially along high-traffic roads. Cook said she's hesitant to get out and pick it up in those areas because of the traffic.

"I'm scared to get right on a highway," she said. "This (in the parks) is safe, but I wish I could do more. I think a group is safer on the highway."

On some of the less busy streets, Cook said, she will get out and pick some trash up if she sees it.

Carla Hahn also came out to Washington Park on Thursday and spent some time picking up trash. She works for the Community Health Center of Central Missouri, which she said has a team focused on helping the community.

Along with the trash pickup, Hahn said, it was just good to be out in nature, enjoying the weather.

"I believe anytime when you're in nature, if you can be out to help keep it clean, it's good for you physically, mentally, healthily to be out in the fresh air," she said. "You can be getting some exercise and some activity that helps the community like this is with cleaning. It's a great benefit for all."

Porrello said she's seen other groups promoting cleanups in different areas around the city, and she hopes the parks department can work with those groups to promote them going forward.

The final cleanup will be 4-7 p.m. Thursday in Washington Park and focused on the north side of the city.

"You've got to love Mother Nature," Cook said.

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