Tick Boom & Ladies’ Trash Collection

  • (L to R) Moy Garretson, Karen Rooke and Melinda Fons spend some of their free time picking up trash. They say it's great exercise. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

The tick population is booming in parts of Michigan…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Blacklegged ticks – formerly known as deer ticks – are historically rare in the Lower Peninsula. But over the past decade, that’s been changing.

Erik Foster is a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He’s been studying the tick population as it’s been moving north along the western Michigan shoreline.

“It’s been so rapid, anecdotal reports say within the last five years of these ticks moving in and just really flourishing. Because of the habitat, because of the amount of hosts they have to feed on.”

He says the Lake Michigan shoreline is good habitat for ticks.

Foster says because the winter was so mild, more mice and chipmunks survived. Those animals are hosts for ticks… and that means more ticks made it through the winter too.

He says deer and birds are also hosts for ticks and they’re transporting the insects north.

Foster says black-legged ticks can transmit Lyme disease. He recommends wearing insect repellant that contains DEET and checking yourself and your pets for ticks after you walk in tall grass or in the woods.

Thanks to Interlochen Public Radio’s Rachel Lane for help with this story.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan… you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms but their kids are grown up. They work part time. And they fill their free time… by picking up trash… for fun.

“This is a beautiful area and yet we have piles of garbage there.”

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: “Wagons roll!” (laughter)

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

“I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card… ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police.”

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire… and two more credit cards.

Karen: “I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there it’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think – don’t know. We were young once too!” (laughs)

(trash crinkling)

Melinda Fons admits she’s a little bit obsessed with picking up garbage. She says when her kids were young they’d get embarrassed.

“They would say Mom, you don’t have to pick up garbage everywhere. But it was so easy to do, you just stroll over to the garbage can and deal with it.”

She points out that trash can hurt wildlife… and she says she just can’t stand to see a place messed up.

“I was taught that if you go into an area don’t leave anything there that wasn’t there when you got there. I would like that same kind of reverence, you know, to be everywhere.”

Fons says she started by just picking up garbage on her walks around her neighborhood. Then… she started roping her friends into it. Sometimes they’ll even scramble up hills to clean up trash on highway interchanges.

Moy Garretson says you do have to get used to people staring at you.

“People look at us like we’re crazy, like maybe we’re doing some weekend community service. I’ve had girlfriends yell out the window and say ‘Great job!’ But we don’t see them out here.”

(bags crinkling, cars whizzing by)

After an hour… they call it quits.

They head to the police station to turn in the credit cards. At an intersection, a guy in a leather jacket pulls up next to the car.

Moy: “If that guy throws that cigarette butt out we’re chasing him.” (laughter)

The guy rolls his window down and flicks the cigarette out.

“OOOH Naughty!”

The women stop one more time to pick up a stray water bottle on the side of the road… and then it’s back to Melinda Fons’ house to unload the six big bags of trash.

Karen: “If more people do it, it won’t take long to get everything shipshape, in Bristol fashion.”

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.