Kate Lowe doesn’t remember exactly when her family started picking up roadside litter around their home in the Low Gap neighborhood. She’s 23 now, and they’ve been doing it for as long as she can remember.
What she does remember is just how bad it used to be.
“Low Gap Road used to be pretty bad,” she said. “People would come down there to dump off their mattresses, couches and things like that over the hillside.”
In fact, the road from Glass House Road — once U.S. Hwy. 27 — to the valley through which New River winds south of Huntsville used to be an eyesore; a favorite dumping ground for many litterbugs.
These days, Low Gap Road is one of the cleanest “back roads” in Scott County. And that is a direct result of one family — the Lowe family — deciding that enough was enough.
“It was really my mom (Velma),” Lowe said. “She was looking at all the bottles and stuff on the side of the road. She didn’t like it. She didn’t like to look at it. She just kept talking about how bad and awful it was. One day we were just like, ‘we’re gonna pick it up.’ And we did, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Picking up Low Gap Road — all the way from its intersection with Glass House to the Lowes’ home on the far side of New River — was a family affair from the beginning. Velma and her husband, Robert, and their two children, Kate and Blake, all pitched in.
The first “major” cleanup took some time — several days and a lot of hard labor, pulling old couches and televisions and other large items to the road to be loaded onto trucks.
But picking up the trash was just the start of it. Next came a matter of disposing of it properly, and that is where the Lowes ran into a problem.
The Scott County Recycling Center, located nearby on Scott High Drive, was not willing to accept the old couches and other large items. Instead, the family was told, the items would have to be hauled to the landfill, where a fee would be charged to unload them.
“It’s hard enough to get people to pick stuff up, but they just aren’t gonna pay to take it up there,” Lowe said.
So, as a sophomore in high school, young Kate Lowe — a standout member of the Lady Highlander basketball team — became a community activist. She developed a PowerPoint slideshow about the dangers of litter and did something many adults would not have the gumption before: she approached Scott County Commission and asked her turn to speak. Her request: for the county-owned recycling center to take those large unwanted items, free of charge.
Commissioners listened, and Lowe’s vision became new county policy. For the first time, those large items could be taken to the recycling center and disposed of for free. It was a big aid to the Lowes and other families who wanted to be proactive in keeping their streets clean, and it also left no excuse for people who were dumping those unwanted items to not take them to the recycling center rather than pushing them over a hill on some side road away from the nearest houses.
Once Low Gap Road was clean, the Lowes also tackled Bud’s Ford, a dumping spot further into Low Gap that was once notorious for the garbage that was dumped there. They cleaned it up and, Lowe said, it has stayed clean, for the most part.
Unfortunately, a clean roadway won’t stay clean. For every person willing to pitch in and pick up trash, there are 10 more dumping it behind them.
So the Lowes continue their efforts to keep Low Gap Road clean. Kate Lowe is in school in Knoxville these days, while her brother is in medical school at Virginia Tech, but Robert and Velma Lowe still routinely pick up trash along Low Gap Road. And during the summers and breaks, when Kate is home, they conduct their “major” cleanups, which they do about twice a year.
“We’ve found everything from syringes to medical biohazard material,” Lowe said. “We’ve found dead animals in bags, carpet, toilets, you name it.”
Lowe said the trash is more than just an eyesore, especially with New River so close by.
“New River is a recreational area; people swim there all the time,” she said. “Not only are you gonna be stepping all over stuff that an cut your feet, but it’s just dirty. It’s an environmental hazard with so much of that trash being washed down into the river.”
The results are obvious. Cheryl Cribbet, who, along with her husband Dennis, owns Cabins of Elk Run near the Lowes’ home, says that guests routinely comment on the scenic and clean drive in to the cabins. Low Gap has gone from being one of Scott County’s most scenic valleys, tarnished by roadside litter, to simply being one of Scott County’s most scenic valleys.