Sunday, May 1, 2011

Drama Before Dawn

by John Gascoyne

Time and place: Sunday, May 1, 2011, 4:30 a.m.; Stevens Gulch, Poudre Canyon, Colorado - 26.2 miles from Fort Collins’ Old Town Square.

The players:

Ron: “Hey, John, you got a flashlight?”

John: “No, Ron, I never even thought about bringing one.”

Ron: “Well, let’s get out of the car and see if we can find anything in the dark.”

Both: “Damn, it sure is cold up here.”

John: “You going to keep wearing that jacket, or what?”

The big event: Such were the somewhat shaky beginnings of the culmination of weeks of planning for the Big Day. For many weeks, Ron and John and a goodly number of other folks had been on a mission: Make the May 1 Colorado Marathon as clean and green an event as possible. The race, and the environmental efforts, would begin at sunrise at Steven’s Gulch. Some history - Lisa Sinclair and Ron Baker are both distance runners from Fort Collins; both are determined that their sport become a model of environmental awareness and stewardship.

The two runners had twin ambitions: to compost and recycle as much race-generated waste as possible and to leave the racecourse clean of all debris after the runners had cleared it. They had secured positive commitments from the race promoters to assist in the twin efforts. Some months before race day, the two had entered into a partnership with the Poudre Canyon Group of Sierra Club. PCG would supply the people power needed to effect the plan. A large group of volunteers would be trained in the niceties of quickly sorting through trash generated during the race and seeing how much of it could be either recycled or composted.

A corollary of this effort was to reduce as much as possible the amount of trash bound for the methane-generating county landfill. In order to perform their duty, PCG volunteers would be stationed along the 26.2 miles of the Marathon. With runners and spectators being measured in the thousands, Zero Waste ambitions would require a great deal of energy and speed in sorting through the discarded waste. Gallegos Sanitation, Inc., was the third essential partner in the effort. Experts at the family operated Fort Collins sanitation company would train the volunteers and provide support for the collection efforts. GSI would supply and service Zero Waste stations – bright green collectors housing the containers for each category of discarded matter. Based upon much prior experience, GSI set a goal of having 15% or less of the generated waste being trucked to the landfill. Over the two days preceding the Sunday race, PCG staffed a booth at Expo, the pre-race meetup that included vendors, runners and race enthusiasts.

The PCG booth provided a good opportunity to promote the environmental message of Sierra Club. Adjoining the booth, there was a functioning GSI Zero Waste station. The sorting of race-generated waste had begun two days before the starting gun went off at Stevens Gulch. Arriving by the busload, the large crowd of runners at Stevens Gulch was stoking their reserves for the race – taking in lots of high energy in the form of fruit, water, juices and really-messy-to-handle-when-discarded gel packs. When it became clear that Zero Waste was the plan for the day, most people went out of their way to bring their trash over to the sorting station. Yes, there was some material to be picked up from the ground; that was to be expected. As they had done for the Horsetooth Half Marathon some weeks before, PCG volunteers on bicycles followed the runners, ensuring the cleanliness of the racecourse. Other volunteers were stationary and staffed the Zero Waste stations set up along the course.

In anticipation of the crowd at Old Town Square, seven stations had been set up there. With thousands of folks crowded into the square and eating and drinking, there was a great deal trash generated at the end of the race. GSI staffers were kept busy removing the filled containers at the Zero Waste stations and replacing them with empty ones. PCG volunteers were up to their elbows in gooey, sloppy stuff – doing the right thing can sometimes be a messy business. The bottom line: • Race presenters, including Lisa Sinclair and Ron Baker, declared the Zero Waste effort to be an extraordinary success.

• Gallegos Sanitation, Inc. said that the material going to the landfill was less than 10% of the total mass collected, the most successful recycling and composting effort that they had seen.

• Poudre Canyon Group had succeeded in a number of ways: o We had gotten our positive environmental message to thousands of members of the general public. o A few dozen members of PCG had banded together in an event that promoted group solidarity and enthusiasm. o Race promoters provided significant honoraria to PCG, funds that will help us to promote the objectives of Sierra Club.

• PCG’s experience can provide positive modeling for other Sierra Club groups – engaging our troops, doing the right environmental thing, and generating some much-needed cash. Please contact us for details on how you might implement a similar program.


And wouldn't ya know it, Sierra Club's own, Will Walters crosses the finish line on behalf of Sierra Club!

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