Keeping Doña Ana County Beautiful with Litter Picking |

Meet The BLiPS

Badass Litter Pickers (BLiPS) sprang into existence from a group of like-minded strangers, friends, and acquaintances. A brief Facebook conversation with fellow Woman-Who-Gets-Stuff-Done Trish Cutler about our respective hatred of litter led to our plan of action to meet up and “clean up” Doña Ana County.
By the end of the day, two other Women Who Get Stuff Done, Michaela Buenemann and Raena Cota, wanted to join us, followed by my friend Nigel Holman and my husband, Dominic Simon. (Men want to Get Stuff Done, too.) Our first time out together, Trish chuckled at how “badass” we all looked in our masks, and I quipped that we were badass litter pickers — and the name stuck!

The Routine

Since May, every Friday after work (weekends when the days got short) BLiPS heads into the county armed with trash grabbers, buckets, and bags. We take turns choosing locations and cleaning up along the river is a priority: Shalem Colony Trail bridge, Mesilla Dam, and Calle del Norte at the river have all received more than one BLiPS visit.
We’ve also litter picked along Fort Selden Road in Radium Springs, on the East Mesa, along Calle Las Lomas and La Reina, and along Webb Road, Las Alturas, and University Avenue in Mesilla. A field behind an apartment complex resulted in one of our biggest hauls, which included discarded carpets, clothing, a stack of unused-yet-ancient fast-food clamshells, half-empty bottles of toiletry products, and a broken office chair.
We do our best to recycle plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans. Usually there is at least one “ew” moment during a BLiP — we’ve even found dirty diapers and used hygiene products on the riverbank. Worst, though, are the single-use plastic bags outside for so long that they disintegrate into hundreds of pieces as soon as you grab them, entering the environment forever.

Why They Do It

Each of us has been asked why we litter pick. For me, knowing that a wadded-up fishing line discarded by a thoughtless angler won’t tangle the legs of a critter, or a plastic bag carried by the wind won’t wrap around a bird’s nest or butterfly eggs, or an aluminum can won’t trap a lizard’s head, is why I do it.
Clean roadsides make Trish happy, and she enjoys the fellowship of beautifying a piece of land together with like-minded people. She says it’s gratifying when others express appreciation — “It’s always a great feeling when people honk and yell ‘thank you!’” The irony of finding a torn “Keep Doña Ana County Beautiful” sign out in a field in the bushes did not escape her. For Trish, BLiPS has “been great during COVID — to have a safe activity to do with others has been a huge blessing,” but she adds, “Although it makes me feel good to do it, I wish we didn’t have to.”
Wildlife is also a concern for Michaela Buenemann, given the “sheer amount of garbage” we find. She, too, likes the feeling of leaving a place looking great, but wishes there was more respect for people and the environment. Michaela recalled a cleanup at Shalem Colony Trail bridge and people chucking beer bottles into the river, just to watch them float by . . . as they watched us pick up litter. Still, she says it’s worth the effort. “Even though we are there picking up trash, it’s easy to see the beauty of the landscape around us.”
For Raena Cota, BLiPS is a way to “give back to the environment and leave things better than they were.” She grew up hiking and fishing, but being grown-up means a desk job, and BLiPS helps her revisit her relationship with the environment and get both physical activity and a sense of accomplishment. Raena also picks up garbage when she hikes and adds that it’s “heartbreaking to realize so many don’t appreciate the nature we have. How hard is it to take your trash with you?”
Nigel Holman likes Friday BLiPS because “by 7 p.m. I’ve already done something good for the community and I can enjoy my weekend.” He has lived in Las Cruces for 30 years, but BLiPS has taken him places he’d never been. Nigel likens the cleanup spots to archaeological sites. “It makes me sad to find toys — did the kid cry when they realized it was gone? There are all sorts of stories. Why was the purple party dress buried along the barbed wire fence? It’s quite emotional when you think about it.”

Community Effort

Others join us occasionally (including Las Cruces City Councilor Tessa Abeyta Stuve and her family), but longtime La Mesa resident Dora Chavarria is one of our new regulars. Dora looks forward to when the group can actually socialize, noting, “We meet for just a minute and then head off to the bushes!” For Dora, BLiPS is a good way to provide a service to the community, and she appreciates that “we don’t make a big deal about it, we just go out and do it. No audience required.” Like Nigel, Dora wonders about the stories behind what she finds. The first time Dora came out with BLiPS, she found 30 golf balls in a field — “Was that COVID stress relief?” She also says she can’t drive down the road anymore without noticing the trash!

Keep Doña Ana County Beautiful

Irene Holguin, the Keep Doña Ana County Beautiful (KDACB) coordinator at DAC Animal Control and Codes Enforcement, supplies BLiPS with grabbers, high visibility safety vests, trash bags, and buckets (plus groovy swag). Irene says, “If it weren’t for community champions, a lot of cleanup initiatives in our 26 rural communities wouldn’t happen.” She adds that help from community groups means that the Codes Enforcement illegal dump crew can spend more time farther out in the field.
KDACB’s goals are to “maintain clean, green, beautiful spaces through litter and graffiti abatement, recycling, and beautification.” Irene’s focus areas are “sustainable materials management education and sustainable community gardens that can maintain pollinators.” Based on her experience, she firmly believes limiting single-use plastics can go a long way to eliminating trash in our county environment.

Get Involved

BLiPS has been a welcome distraction during COVID, but has morphed into a little movement by people who share a love of where we live and the desire to make it better for humans and critters. You can do this, too, wherever you are! It’s an easy way anyone — and everyone — can make a difference. This type of volunteering won’t land you on the society page, but it will get you out onto the beautiful land of Doña Ana County.

Keep Doña Ana County Beautiful coordinator Irene Holguin can be reached at Doña Ana County Animal Control & Codes Enforcement, 575-525-8846.

Written and Photography by Elaine Stachera Simon
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2021

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