Every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. Centralia native Steve Kopa is at the Exit 81 Park and Ride. His mission is simple: to clean up litter. Sometimes a dozen people show up to help him, sometimes only one person does, but that never deters his determination to make his hometown a cleaner city. “I would just do it by myself if I had too but there are other people who are interested in the same goal,” Kopa says. “They share the common thought of let’s just clean it up since no one else is.”
A Facebook post nearly two years ago on Lewis County Sirens sparked the idea. When someone complained about the litter under the bridge near Harrison Avenue and 1st Street, many people chimed in with complaints. Kopa decided to take action.
“All these people were just talking about the effects of it,” he says. “So I went online and said, why don’t we just meet and pick it up?” There were six volunteers that initially showed up and three more joined soon after. The eleven citizens cleared 64 bags totaling around 3,000 pounds of litter in just a few hours. He lined the bags up on the bridge so everyone passing by could see.
“It was fun and made us feel really good,” he says. After that, people started chiming in on the post about other areas that needed attention. So the group decided to continue. Kopa approached City of Centralia to see if they had any pinchers and they offered bags and gloves too.
The group cleaned areas around Riverside Park with the help of 60 volunteers including the Lewis County Sheriff, Centralia Police Department and Bill Teitzel, Environmental Services Supervisor for Lewis County Public Health. Tietzel brought sharps containers. At the end of the day, the group filled two five-gallon buckets with needles and a LeMay donated dumpster with 5,000 pounds of trash.
An area between Plummer’s Lake and the Skookumchuck River yielded so much trash a volunteer brought in a Bobcat tractor with a bucket to clear trails through the mountains of garbage. They filled a 30-yard dumpster twice that time.
Almost two years later the group has cleaned over 40,000 pounds of trash. Curious, Kopa looked up equivalent weights and found that is as much as an adult blue whale.
Together with a few regular volunteers like Joyce Hoerling, Shelly and Rebecca Ford, Karen Replogle, Joy Lambert Wilson, Scott D. Kimball, and Peter Laymen, Kopa’s determined to continue to keep Centralia clean. Even Mayor Lee Coumbs helps.
While typically five to ten people show up, there is always a need for more volunteers. Kopa invites anyone else who shares the desire to have a clean city. Centralia High School students who need to complete their required community service hours are also welcome to join in the efforts. “We all feed off of each other, so if 15 show up we are excited and get so much done,” he says.
Averaging 300 to 600 pounds a weekend in about ten bags, the group works for two and a half hours. They clean both exits each time. “It needs it every weekend,” Kopa says. “When someone gets off the freeway, they form a first impression of Centralia. Exit 82 is the hood of our car, it needs to look good every weekend.”
As a former downtown antique merchant, Kopa knows the importance of getting visitors to enjoy everything Centralia has to offer. He now builds garden sheds out of reclaimed building salvage at Shed Shop.
His efforts are not limited to weekend group clean-ups. Kopa now keeps pinchers, gloves, and bags in his vehicle and is known to throw on his flashers and set to work alone. “I just hope that leading by example, somebody will be like, ‘I am going to pick up my road,’” he says. “That’s all it takes, a few people in an area and then pretty soon everything looks good.”
With no plans to slow down his efforts, Kopa asks others to point out areas needing cleaning in Centralia that may go unnoticed. “I’ve got a huge flaming inner drive in me that wants to do it,” he says. “It’s not like a big task. It’s something that I enjoy.”
The bonus to a cleaner city is the camaraderie Kopa feels every Saturday morning. He snaps a photo of the group before they scatter and get to work.
“You don’t have to come help me and be a part of what I do,” Kopa says. “All you have to do is get a bag and walk the road in front of your house and clean it up, or an area you see that bothers you. We all cause it in little amounts and it adds up to be big amounts. Maybe you come to a stop sign and look around at all the trash; so maybe next time leave a little earlier and stop and pick some up.”