“I Can’t Do It All”


But he’s giving it a darn good shot. Three times a week, 52 weeks a year, CARAG resident Keith Golke retrieves litter from the shoreline of Lake Calhoun.  While running. If you frequent the lake, you’ve likely seen Keith, plastic grocery sac in hand, dashing from spot to spot, picking up other people’s trash. How much does he collect? “It varies from season to season, but during the prime summer months I fill one grocery sack every half-mile.” That’s six full bags for the three-mile perimeter or 18 bags per week.

When Keith embarked upon this effort in the summer of 2002 his goal was to “get it all picked up. I thought it would take about a month.” By summer’s end, Keith had taken care of “the legacy litter,” or back-log. He had also come face to face with the discouraging rate of fresh litter accumulation. Eventually Keith had to accept that he couldn’t do it all.

This unusual volunteer commitment began when Keith, a regular lake runner, grew tired of seeing so much trash along the shoreline.  He remembered an old friend who used to pick up litter “wherever she went – a little at a time.”  Keith wanted to contribute to the neighborhood. An electrical engineer for Honeywell, Keith thought this was “something I could do on my own time and schedule, and while running.”  Keith regularly trains for 10Ks and has run seven marathons. His “litter lap” fits into a longer run, usually two to three times around the lake.  “It’s a different kind of running,” Keith acknowledges, one that demands lateral movement, forward bending and a great deal of core strength.

Keith discerns litter where others don’t.  “I didn’t realize how blind I had become to the litter.  It’s easy to ignore.  Now I’m hyper-sensitive.”  His “territory” extends from the edge of the water to the parkway itself (“lots of lunch trash”) and across it to the wooded areas abutting property lines. “My emphasis is on hard-to-reach places.” Bob, one of the regular Park Board maintenance workers in charge of the lakeshore, is especially appreciative.  Keith can access places where Bob doesn’t have the time to pick up.

In addition to park workers, Keith has met others who collect litter while walking around the lake and he appreciates their efforts as well.  While it’s impossible to do it all, staying abreast of the problem helps. Keith feels that “litter breeds litter”: people are more likely to drop their trash in places where trash already exists. Both Keith and Bob have observed an increase in trash around the lake over the past two years.  Neither can say why.  Nor is it clear to Keith what motivates people to litter.  While he devotes his energy to picking up after others, Keith confesses, “I have no idea what to do to attack the source [of the problem.”  Although one can try to instill in others a love for nature and their environment and make it as easy as possible for them to do the right thing (by providing accessible trash bins), people can’t be forced to care or change their behavior.

Rather than succumbing to discouragement, Keith takes satisfaction from the conviction that he’s having an impact at the local level.  He urges others to follow suit.  “I encourage everyone to make a point of picking up litter every time they go to the lake.  Even picking up just one piece helps and is noticed.  Everyone and any effort can make a difference.”

On behalf of Keith and our lovely Lake Calhoun, I leave you with three requests.  Think twice before littering.  Carry a bag on your next walk and pick up at least one piece of trash.  And next time you see Keith doing his thing, call out your thanks. 

Sarah Sponheim lives with her family in ECCO.