One of the first things people notice about the Lake of the Ozarks region is its natural beauty, but take a second glance, look a little longer, and you see the beauty marred with trash, lots of trash.

One of the first things people notice about the Lake of the Ozarks region is its natural beauty, but take a second glance, look a little longer, and you see the beauty marred with trash, lots of trash.

It’s a pet peeve for many in the area. As much as our society has become more environmentally conscious over the last couple of decades, it appears littering may have become worse, or maybe there’s just more of us here.

Either way, the region is fortunate to have people who care enough to pick up the trash. Sometimes, it’s a club or organization, sometimes a corporate sponsor and sometimes it’s just an individual frustrated by old liquor bottles and fast food bags.

Sabrina Stevens is one of those people. The Lake Ozark area resident is fairly new to the area, having moved here two years ago. She and her husband chose the Lake of the Ozarks when they decided to come back to Missouri due to proximity to family in different parts of the state, but also for those scenic views.

The Lake of the Ozarks is a beautiful place, she says, but once she got settled in, she started noticing the trash littering the roadways. It really began to sink in this winter though. With the trees bare, it’s all less covered up.

“It’s worse on windy days. You can see it blowing into the woods,” says Sabrina, who tries to pull over and pick up the litter she sees along the way. It can make even simple trips to the grocery store take awhile. She regularly carries trash bags in her trunk, filling them up as she goes.

It’s not just Lake Ozark either. A substitute teacher at a couple of area schools, Sabrina often drives to Eldon and Tuscumbia. It’s along the way there, and in Osage Beach, Camdenton — everywhere.

“I just got to the point I felt like every other day I was picking up trash,” she says. “I regularly spend time picking up trash, but the amount and breadth of trash in our area is simply beyond any one person’s ability to control.”

The worst is along the main drags as subdivisions like hers in Horseshoe Bend are usually pretty good to keep things looking nice, and perhaps people just tend to be more conscientious in their own neighborhoods.

Sabrina is heartened by others she sees taking the time to pick up trash too, but says she wishes there were a more proactive mindset at the Lake to keep your garbage until you get where you’re going and dispose of it properly in the first place.

“I just would there to be more awareness of it. I don’t know. I grew up in an era of Keep America Beautiful. You’d see no littering signs. There would be trash cans everywhere. It seems like that’s kind of going away, and people don’t care anymore. People like to say they love living at the Lake. If you love it, why wouldn’t you want to keep it clean and beautiful?”

Sabrina encourages people to participate in cleanup events this weekend held in time for Earth Day, April 22, but to also be mindful throughout the year on what we are doing with our trash.

“We are a tourist destination, but the litter is hurting our image, but more importantly, we are damaging the earth for future generations. Trash that does not get picked up ends up in the woods or lake to harm wildlife and water. Please help me rally our communities to clean up our towns and roads and to encourage people not to litter. Anything you can do would make a difference,” she says.

Along these lines, the Missouri Department of Transportation is holding its annual No More Trash! Bash now through May 15. 

For 16 years, this program has encouraged Missourians to help the state become litter-free. Adopt-A-Highway volunteers are a big part of the effort, a MoDOT press release states, collecting more than 43,000 bags last year and saving the state more than $1 million in litter removal. Go to www.nomoretrash.org or call 888-ASK-MoDOT for more information.

The Lake West Chamber of Commerce and communities on the west side of the Lake of the Ozarks also sponsor an annual Lake Road Cleanup with dumpsters made available to dispose of roadside trash that volunteers pick up throughout the spring. This event will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 21. Trash bags are provided to these spring cleaners. Pick up bags at the Lake West Chamber office in Sunrise Beach and Laurie City Hall prior to the event and then at the dumpster sites on Saturday. Dumpster locations include Laurie Bank at Highways 5 and O, at the old hotel in Gravois Mills and at Hop n Go on Cuptree Drive (135-3) near Highway 135 north of Laurie.