Frye: Littering now, always troubling
Bill Holtzer turned 80 this summer and admittedly has outlived many of his fishing buddies.
Still, he fishes whenever he can.
This past week, he traveled from his home in Jeannette to Virgin Run Lake near Perryopolis. He found the lake to be pastoral and pretty and did well, too. Tossing artificials as he worked his way around the shoreline, he landed a variety of fish, from bass to assorted panfish.
But all was not well.
Everywhere he went, from the areas closest to the parking lot to the far side of the lake, he encountered garbage.
“Oh, I'll tell you what. I've never seen anything like it,” Holtzer said. “In all the years I've spent hunting and fishing in Pennsylvania, I've never seen littering as I did at Virgin Run Lake. I could have filled 20-gallon garbage bags at each of the places I found trash.”
That's not nearly as surprising as it should be.
At Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission lakes, other impoundments and along rivers and creeks, littering is a problem.
“It's always in the top three when it comes to the kinds of citations we write in a year's time across the state,” said Tom Qualters, manager of the commission's southwest region law enforcement office in Somerset. “It's a shame.”
Last year, fishing without a license was the most common offense handled by waterways conservation officers, with 1,623 citations issued. Lack of personal floatation devices ranked second with 1,126. Littering was third with 453.
That was par for the course. Over the previous two years, officers averaged 463 littering citations.
Some litterbugs are anglers and boaters, Qualters said. But day-hikers, adults and kids partying and others cause problems, too. All toss aside everything from fast food bags to beer cans to cigarette butts to bait containers.
Scott Opfer, the commission's conservation officer in Fayette County whose district takes in Virgin Run, is aggressive about fining them. He leads the state in littering citations just about every year, Qualters said.
“That's my pet peeve, littering,” Opfer said. “That's one thing I won't give a guy a break on. I don't care who you are, if I find you littering, you're going to get a ticket because there's no need for it.”
The problem is widespread, he noted. Even hard-to-reach places suffer. The area along Jacobs Creek known as Creek Falls — a 1 1⁄2-mile walk along railroad tracks from the closest road — is incredibly scenic, for example, but is marred by the constant accumulation of trash.
The base fine for littering is $108.50, counting court costs, though officers can add penalties of $20 to $50 per item discarded. Getting hit once that way is enough to convince some people to stop leaving garbage behind, Opfer said.
But officers only can be in so many places, Qualters said. Sportsmen need to spot problems and report them.
Holtzer has and hopes others likewise are willing to be vigilant for the sake of the places they hold dear. Places like Virgin Run.
“It's such a beautiful lake,” he said. “But I came away from there with a tear in my eye because of the incredible problem I found.”