If it weren’t for Alan Walter, there’d be a lot more trash on the Rims.
The 68-year-old spends many hours each week walking a mile-long stretch of the Rims west of the airport, picking up empty beer cans, syringes, coffee cups and the like. On Tuesday, he found an unopened bag of coleslaw and a lone blue Croc shoe.
“I find everything up here,” he said. “I have found whole chickens still in the wrapper.”
Walter has been picking up trash on the Rims, just west of the roundabout intersection with North 27th Street, since spring 2017. A fishing buddy’s habit of collecting litter at fishing accesses got to him, and he started doing the same on morning walks with his dog, Bo.
Walter visits up to five times a week. In the summer, when business at his heating and air conditioning company picks up, he aims for two trips a week. On Sunday, he stayed for five hours.
“You know, the end of the weekend, you get the most,” he said. “Usually by Thursday the garbage cans are full.”
Trash in public spaces is nothing new. Last summer, the city parks department employee assigned to North Park told The Gazette he found syringes, broken glass and human feces on a near-daily basis.
Overnight partying, and the litter from it, became a problem last summer in several Billings parks, including on the Rims, according to an August 2017 memo from the parks department to the city council.
The Billings Police Department now has a full-time officer dedicated to city parks, with a focus on North, South and Dehler parks. Officer Nick Lam works to build rapport with park users and increase police visibility, aiming to cut down on things like outdoor drinking and drug use. He’s made 32 arrests in June and July and issued 143 citations — mostly alcohol-related — during that time, said Lt. Brandon Wooley.
But the section of the Rims that Walter tends to is not an official park. It’s policed by regular patrol officers, and trash pickup falls to do-gooders like Walter.
Armed with rubber gloves, two sturdy bags that his wife, Mary, sewed from a tarp, and water for himself and his dog, Walter begins his trek: One mile west down Highway 3, then back along the dirt trail below the roadway.
“I’ve dropped two pant sizes just up here picking up garbage,” he said.
Walter said that although his work is always undone by the next visit, he doesn’t get discouraged. He feels satisfied seeing the results.
Plus, it’s important.
“Because when you let it go for a couple of days," he said, "it’s an ordeal."