Keep El Dorado Beautiful continuing work as Great American Cleanup begins

Group hoping to revive ward cleanups, index litter in city

El Dorado firefighters participated in a community cleanup held Feb. 18 in preparation for the Governor's Conference on Tourism, which was held in El Dorado this week. Keep El Dorado Beautiful leaders hope to continue efforts to keep the city clean and litter-free as the year continues. (News-Times file)

Now that the Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism is over, Keep El Dorado Beautiful is setting its sights on other projects.

For the past several months, KEB, along with community leaders and other local groups, has been laser-focused on making El Dorado, the first-time host of the annual AGCT, presentable and inviting for hundreds of attendees and their guests.

On Feb. 18, KEB teamed up with another local group, One City Movement, for a community cleanup to help spruce up the city for the AGCT.

The day included clearing city streets of litter, laying mulch in Old City Park, one of the city's busiest and most highly-visible public parks, and more.

Pop-up, cleanup groups, commissioned by KEB, also participated in the effort.

KEB began the discussion on forming the pop-up groups in 2022 to encourage local youth to participate in building a sustainable program to help keep El Dorado clean.

The groups are offered cash incentives to assist with fees and other associated costs with membership in youth groups, including sports teams, church groups and other development programs.

"It was real good. We had about eight groups that represented KEB with the pop-up incentives," Janis Van Hook, president of KEB, said in reference to the community cleanup on Feb. 18.

"We had a really good turnout that morning and that afternoon, another group did the mulching in Old City Park," Van Hook continued. "Volunteers from the El Dorado Fire Department helped to clean up in some areas and youth groups, including (Camp Fire El Dorado), worked that day."

The three-day AGCT ended Tuesday and Van Hook said KEB wants to keep the momentum going community-wide efforts to keep El Dorado clean.

One way to do so is by joining another annual event that kicked off Wednesday.

The Great American Cleanup, promoted by Keep America Beautiful, is held each year between March 1 and May 31.

KEB and the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission are encouraging Arkansans to get involved by hosting their own cleanups or joining local cleanup events.

In a 2022 wrap-up, the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission reported a record-breaking turnout for cleanup events that were held around the state.

Nearly 18,000 volunteers participated in all 75 counties in Arkansas in 2022, representing an increase of 30% over 2021.

Additionally, 457 tons of litter was picked up around the state, according to the KABC report.

Van Hook said more people joined KEB or teamed up with the group for cleanup events in 2022 and several local groups and at least one family adopted city streets.

She also lauded individual residents who do their part every day to keep their neighborhoods and the entire city litter-free.

During a regular monthly meeting in February, KEB members discussed reviving their quarterly ward cleanup program, in which the group works with El Dorado City Council members to coordinate cleanups in each of the city's four wards.

With a donation from Clean Harbors -- whose general manager, Dan Roblee, is a member of KEB --, the group was able to offer $300 cash to each volunteer group who was eligible to participate in the program, which was held in 2018 and 2019.

The goal of the program and cash incentives was to hold one community cleanup per quarter, rotate the cleanups among the city's four wards and encourage more people to participate.

The program was put on hold in 2020 due to a lack of funding and remained sidelined throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

KEB is looking to work with city council members to revitalize the program this year, using the pop-up group format.

The group is also planning to re-start the annual litter index survey.

With the survey, KEB members tour the city, select a few streets that cover broad sections of each ward and score the areas on a scale from one to four, with one being the best and four the worst.

Scores are based on such criteria as litter on the ground, overgrown lots and outside storage, and are tallied into a composite that is submitted to the city council and the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission.

The survey is to be performed annually and KEB had typically conducted the survey in April.

However, the group has not taken a litter index survey since 2018.

Scheduling conflicts and issues with arranging transportation halted efforts in 2019.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission and Keep America Beautiful waived the litter index survey for local affiliates, including KEB.

Now that public health crisis has largely passed, KEB members have said now is the right time to evaluate the city on its cleanliness.

"We want to get our litter index started back up and we're going to try and do that this spring," said Van Hook.

The group is also continuing its outreach into local schools.

"Plant the Town Purple," an annual Earth Day celebration in a partnership with Northwest Elementary School, will return this spring.

KEB works with Northwest, also known as the Environmental Academy, to distribute hundreds of low-maintenance, "Wildcat Purple"-colored plants to students, faculty and staff, who are encouraged to plant the flowers at home.

In 2021, the project was expanded to include Yocum Elementary School.

KEB member Jeri Ratcliff has headed up the project for nearly 10 years.

Van Hook said Ratcliff and her husband John have donated funds to purchase the plants this year.

Earth Day is on April 22.

The project is a part of KEB's mission to beautify the city.

Other components of KEB are litter and recycling.

Plans to bring Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission mascot, Otto the Otter, into local schools are also still underway.

The program is part of an ongoing effort by KEB to inspire and educate children from an early age about litter-prevention, with the hopes that the children will share what they learn with their families.

Otto, a North American River Otter, debuted in 2017 with the motto, "You Otto Not Litter!"

Van Hook said Otto was a hit among children at the 2022 Mayhaw Festival, during which KEB distributed materials featuring the mascot, including coloring books and activity books, to children.

For more information about KEB, visit the group's Facebook page or call Van Hook at 870-918-2706.