For four years, it’s been one Mattituck man’s mission to keep his town clean and free of litter. And now, starting this month, he has a team of people behind him.
Nine volunteers showed up for the first gathering of the Mattituck litter patrol on June 11, when they worked for hours to clean both sides of two miles of Route 25, from the train bridge in Laurel to Love Lane.
“For me, this all started four years ago. We were walking home along New Suffolk Avenue and I noticed some vodka bottles on the side of the road,” Harper explained. “Some of them still had vodka inside of them.”
As a former school teacher, Harper was especially bothered by that sight in his community. “It’s not good for kids to see — it’s not really good for anybody to see,” he said.
So he decided to do something about it. Harper began walking along his road and picking up bottles.
“I’ve kept every bottle I’ve ever collected, since the first one. It’s in the hundreds,” he said. “I’ve got giant bags full of them.”
“About a year and a half ago, I realized it was a bit too much for me to keep it clean myself. I contacted Councilman [Bill] Ruland, who was extremely responsive,” Harper said. “Within a very short period of time the problem had been solved.”
But the litter problem in Mattituck still bothered him. “I was picking up bottles, so why not pick up that beer can there? I’m out there, I’ve got my tools — I just started picking everything up.”
It became a weekly thing. He’d clean from Main Road to Lake Marratooka in Mattituck. “I just kept doing it, because the litter kept reappearing.”
“I’m proud of where I live, and I want to project a different image,” Harper said.
Harper decided to ask for help. He still knew there was more work to be done. He had surgery, which put a damper on his litter collection.
“I went to a Town Board meeting to discuss what could be done, and the president of the civic happened to be there,” Harper explained. “She approached me afterwards and offered a partnership.
“She said, ‘How would you like a small army?’”
In January, Robert Harper became the chairperson of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association’s Image of Mattituck committee, devoted to making sure Mattituck’s beauty is always on display. They work with local businesses and volunteers to improve the town’s curb appeal, planting trees and flowers and, as of this month, picking up litter.
“We love this community, and we just want to see it at its best,” Harper said.
“When you have eight more people, it goes a lot faster,” Harper said. “It also makes us more visible. I’m hoping that people will see us and next time will think twice about opening the window and throwing out their trash.”