Page Attacks Trash community litter program draws 1,200 volunteers

Cheryl and Dale Machacek have participated in Page Attacks Trash for 19 years. Cheryl says they always take trash bags with them when they hike in the desert. (Submitted photo)

Cheryl and Dale Machacek have participated in Page Attacks Trash for 19 years. Cheryl says they always take trash bags with them when they hike in the desert. (Submitted photo)

PAGE, Ariz. — For the 37th consecutive year, an army of some 1,200 Page and LeChee citizens fanned out across and around their mesa-top town to celebrate Earth Day April 28 in a way that has become a local, award-winning tradition.

Armed with tough, distinctive white trash bags, families and individuals could be seen along highways and adjacent shopping areas gathering trash that somehow had escaped the grasp of their neighbors. 

As the morning hours passed, hundreds of filled bags — 16,680 pounds worth — grew into mountains that were hauled away by crews from the Arizona Department of Transportation, who joined the cause. 

Why are you doing this? I asked volunteer Cheryl Machacek, a Page resident for 19 years.

“It’s community involvement plus you’re really helping the environment, and it’s great stuff,” she said. “My husband and I are out in the desert a lot and we always take a sack with us. We came to this area because with all the stores, there’s always a lot, lot, lot. It’s important.”

Her husband Dale added, “We’re just out here looking for treasures. I just found a five (dollar bill). One year I found a three-foot-tall kachina doll that was in really good shape. Look! There’s a lottery ticket.”  

Page Attacks Trash was launched in 1981 after a young National Park Service interpreter for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area named Jim Popovich began to see more and more waste accumulating on Lake Powell. 

“I saw lots of trash up in the side canyons,” said Popovich, who arrived in Page in 1975 and is now retired and living in Mora, N.M. “And I began thinking, can we do something about this?” 

For that, he knew he needed a strong supporter. So he sought help from the largest employer in town, the Navajo Generating Station. That’s when he met the late Jerry Jones, the NGS public affairs representative who burned with a passion for the community.

What began as the Lake Powell “Boat It In, Bag It Out” campaign became the annual, one-day Page Attacks Trash campaign. 

With the support of Salt River Project’s Rick Elder in Phoenix, Jones came up with the concepts of the popular, recycleable white NGS trash bags made from corn starch, rewarding volunteers with a commemorative T-shirt, and a free lunch by the Page Elks Lodge. NGS paid for it all and a community partnership was born. 

In 1984, Popovich said, Page Attacks Trash brought in Iron Eyes Cody  for the event. At the time, Cody personified the national anti-littering campaign and environmental awareness. 

Today, NGS Maintenance Manager Shayne Jones coordinates Page Attacks Trash with his volunteers, Regina Lane-Haycock, Jeff Knight and Debbie Winlock.

By 1985, records were being set with 212 tons of trash being collected. And by 1986, more than 5,000 people were participating in local enclaves of Wahweap, Greenehaven and Big Water. Page Attacks Trash had gained wide recognition. It received the first place award in the 1986 “Take Pride in Arizona” campaign founded by U.S. Secretary of Interior Donald Hodel. 

In 1987, the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors acknowledged Page Attacks Trash in its report to President Reagan. U.S. Sen. John McCain and his wife Cindy came to participate. The program spread to the Navajo communities of LeChee, Coppermine, Kaibeto, Shonto, Kayenta and Tuba City.

President George H. W. Bush became the first president to institute a daily presidential recognition program. According to the Points of Light Institute, between 1989 and 1993, he conferred 1,020 Daily Point of Light awards. Page Attacks Trash is listed number 85 among the 4,475 Point of Light selectees.

When George Watson returned to Page as NGS Maintenance Department manager in 1990, he took over the coordination of Page Attacks Trash from Jim Kindred, who worked alongside Jerry Jones at NGS. Although Watson retired from NGS in 2011 as Railroad and Heavy Equipment manager, he continues to participate every year.

“When I came in ’90, I kept the theme around Earth Day,” Watson said. “That’s how we kept the place cleaned up. Once a year we’d send out the people and they’d do it. It was amazing the amount of garbage we picked up.”

Watson said among his best volunteers then and now were Debbie Sanderson, Terry Minnick and former Lake Powell Chronicle editor and Powell Museum director Julia P. Betz.

“It made people more aware of the environment and the surrounding area,” Betz said from her home in Bend, Ore. “The park service got into it really heavy with the Trash Tracker. People would volunteer to go out on the lake and they collected tons of trash off the lake shoreline.”

Today, NGS Maintenance Manager Shayne Jones coordinates Page Attacks Trash with his volunteers, Regina Lane-Haycock, Jeff Knight and Debbie Winlock.

Jones grew up in Page and has participated in the program since 1982. He expressed a concern that others feel, that this nearly 4-decades-old program may go the way of its longtime sponsor, NGS, with the plant scheduled to close in December 2019. NGS is committed to at least one more year but he would like to see the city and businesses take it over after that.

Page Attacks Trash is an excellent way to teach children and youth about protecting the beauty of the area’s land, environment, plants and animals from the eyesore of litter, he said. 

That’s a legacy NGS and its employees would like to see continue, he said. 

“Trash never ends,” Jim Popovich said. “It’s important that people realize that you’ve got to start with the education of people and you’ve got to keep it going.”

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