Clean Up Marion! is underway
With agency representatives, elected officials, law enforcement, and a performance from Rubbish the Raccoon, Marion County hosted an event on April 21 to launch a countywide litter clean-up campaign.
Marion County Commissioner Craig Curry speaks during the No Horsin’ Around With Marion Marion County Litter Task Force press conference at the Baseline Road Trailhead in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, April 21, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Rubbish the Raccoon, a mascot developed for the Marion County Litter Task Force, did not disappoint on April 21 when the critter with the familiar black and gray mask danced to the newly created rap song, “Throw It Away.” The song ended the Clean Up Marion! kickoff event at the Baseline Trailhead, which included speakers from the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, law enforcement agencies, Litter Task Force leaders and the city of Ocala.
Commissioner Chair Craig Curry started off the speakers with praise for his fellow commissioners, who unanimously voted to create the Litter Task Force and support its work.
“You’re only one vote,” Curry pointed out. “If you can’t get the others to come together and embrace the idea of this task force,” then the county wouldn’t be able to accomplish its litter goals. With more than 220 residents moving to Marion County every week, Curry thinks this issue is worthy of focus, attention and dollars.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods spoke, along with Capt. Robby Creech of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and State Attorney Bill Gladson. With the beefed-up countywide ordinance and heavier fines and penalties for littering, especially dumping, the enforcement aspect of the program is in place.
“We should be proud of our community,” Woods stated. “Be proud, and we have the responsibility to shine.”
Beth McCall, chairperson of the Litter Task Force, spoke about the program being integrated into the school system and its plan to influence youngsters about litter.
“When we drive down the road and see the garbage,” McCall said, “it just hurts my heart.” By getting kids involved, she said, they’ll get the parents in it, too.
“Rubbish has a very strong message,” she said about the mascot who makes appearances at schools and engages with the children.
Creech talked about accountability and the importance of protecting the Ocala National Forest. A case in which 23,000 pounds of construction debris and roofing materials was dumped there got his team’s dedicated attention. He gave special thanks to the work of Cpl. Joe Simpson, who tracked down subcontractors across state lines. Ultimately, the state charged both the individuals and the business involved with the illegal dumping.
“To business owners who turn a blind eye (to illegal dumping) in the hopes of saving a dollar,” Creech said, “you’re on notice. This is Marion County, and we don’t horse around.”
Curry presented Creech and Simpson with the county Challenge Coin to commemorate their extra efforts in that case and for the task force’s overall mission.
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn thanked the elected officials and praised the collaboration of the teams and the inclusion of Belleview and Dunnellon.
“Ocala is the fourth safest city in the country to live in,” Guinn said. “We’d like to make Ocala/Marion County the cleanest city in the country to live in. It’s a change in mindset, not to throw trash out on the road.”
Other speakers included Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox; Greg Harrell, Clerk of the Court; president of the Ocala City Council Jim Hilty; Carrie Sekerak from the U.S. Forest Service; and Marion County Solid Waste staffer Lacey Larramore.
Curry closed with some action steps for county residents: Teach children not to litter, join an Adopt-a-Road group to help clean up county roadways or start a new one, volunteer to help with the task force speaker’s bureau to help spread the message, and sign the litter-free pledge on the county’s website.
The event concluded with the performance from Rubbish the Raccoon, dancing to “Throw It Away,” the song that emphasizes putting litter in its place. The new mascot is a strong visual element that people, especially schoolchildren, can relate to. Rubbish makes special guest appearances at schools and various county events to raise awareness about litter.
The No Horsin’ Around With Marion County logo horse, Marion, and Rubbish the Raccoon will be seen more in the next few months. Larramore said the department plans to wrap trash cans in parks with the logo, two Sun-Tran buses and also some solid waste trucks, in addition to social media postings, local TV ads and more.
For Curry, the goal in a perfect world would be, “As close to zero litter as we can get. The main thing is to change the minds of the population.”