Barefoot and Covered In Glitter

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For anyone who hasn’t caught on yet, this is more than just a running blog.  It started as a place for me to explore the C25K program along with Vibram FiveFingers and, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s also a place to discuss other “barefoot” activities.  Running, hiking, swimming and playing in my Vibrams often leaves me wanting to discuss my physical experiences but also the spiritual/emotional/intellectual experiences that come from being outside on the trails.  Today’s entry is not about running, it’s about glitter.

I mentioned in my previous post that when I ran on Friday I was alarmed by the massive amount of silver glitter poured all along the trail.  Without exaggeration, many areas of the trail resembled sheets of glitter; I seriously don’t want to know how much money was spent on all this glitter.  I became more and more upset as I ran the trail and found that the glitter extended for close to a mile!

I initially believed the glitter was related to the Story Walk event, sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, that many of the trails in Vermont are participating in.  Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk.  I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.  I couldn’t understand how polluting the trail with glitter was part of an educational event.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Waitsfield had terrible storms Sunday night into Monday; strong enough to down trees along the path.  When I ran on Monday I noticed that the bulk of the glitter had been washed away (most likely into the corn fields and Mad River) but the path was still saturated with sparkles.  When I got to the gazebo I picked up the guest book with the intention of writing a comment when, to my chagrin, I noticed the last comment was from someone praising Story Walk which began with, “I LOVED the glitter!!”  Really?!  REALLY?!  You double-underline-LOVED the glitter?!  Ignorance is not always so blissful.

I’ve lived in enough cities that I know I shouldn’t be surprised by people littering without thinking about it.  While it’s always bothered me, I find I get much angrier when it happens in areas that pride themselves in being eco-friendly and “green”.  I feel those of us living close to nature should somehow know better, really, everyone by now should know better, but I am obviously wrong.

So, I wrote a letter.  I wrote to the Mad River Path Association and to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library complimenting them on Story Walk and expressing my concern for our new glistening path and wondering what the clean-up plan is.  I explained that glitter is not only incredibly difficult to clean up, but it does not biodegrade and in the area it was spread it is likely to be washed into the Mad River which can cause death to small fish, tadpoles and other wildlife that is attracted to eating small shiny objects.  Even without making contact with the river, there are several species on land who could suffer ulcerations if they digest the glitter (including curious dogs).  Since I also like to have sources beyond myself, I quoted a nice summary of the environmental impacts of glitter from Wikipedia (there are several other in-depth articles on this if you Google it, but I really liked Wikipedia’s brief synapsis):

“Because of its small size and durable nature, glitter is a persistent environmental pollutant. Glitter is commonly made from[2] copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, bismuth oxychloride and other materials. These materials are not readily biodegradable. Being heavier than water, glitter sinks to the bottom of waterways and contributes to toxic sludges. Most glitter is used only briefly. At the end of each use it is showered off, entering waste water systems, or swept up for disposal in landfill. Glitter is not recovered or recycled in any way. Because of its small size, down to 15 micrometres, glitter is often lost or spread by humans throughout their environment. Insects and other small organisms are unable to deal with glitter, as it is inedible. Larger creatures can ingest it involuntarily, allowing it to enter the food chain. Because of its metallic nature, static electricity effects can cause it to stick to body parts or habitats. Some of the oxides glitter is made with can be reactive when combined with other waste streams, particularly in water. Glitter has very sharp, hard, edges which are uncommon in nature, are also a problem for very small life. When the same material as glitter occurs in industrial situations as swarf, it is considered a hazardous contaminant, for which extensive safety measures are required. Micro pollutants in animal bloodstreams can have significant health effects.”

I was pleased to receive an email back from the Mad River Path Association the very next morning.  They were as surprised as I was about the glitter and immediately began investigating.  As I mentioned earlier, it turns out this was not a part of Story Walk, so my apologies for assuming it was.  That leaves all involved wondering where the glitter came from and why.  Was it a prank?  Was it someone’s ignorant attempt to make the path more “magical”?  Who’s responsible for this random act of glittering and how the heck do we clean it up?

Many of those questions will never have answers, and the clean-up question is really the only one that can be realistically focused on.  Speaking of which, do you know any way to clean up glitter from grass and mud and rocks spread out for almost a mile?  I’d love to hear your ideas. 🙂

I’m not beyond seeing the humor in all of this.  I can see in some teenager’s mind that turning our path into a silver version of the Yellow Brick Road might seem like a brilliant idea, especially after smoking some Vermont Green.  That said, as a culture I believe we’re past the point of laughing off environmental blunders.  The Mad River Path brings joy, wonder and relaxation to hundreds if not thousands of people every year.  It, along with all of our natural resources, needs to be respected and cared for.

The world right now is outraged by the BP Oil Spill, but few people seem to care if someone drops a gun wrapper or a cigarette butt on the ground.  Where do we draw the line and when do we as a society stand up to educate ourselves on how the small environmental impacts we make every day accumulate in massive ways?  I’m standing up for glitter.  Hey, we all have to choose our battles, right?

Part of the glittery Mad River Path after several huge storms.

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  1. Anne Ferguson  November 15, 2010

    Thank you for your kind words about the StoryWalk™ Project –

    “Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk. I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.”

    Please make note that we never photocopy any books – all books are purchased, mounted on cardstock, laminated and placed on stakes as we get them from the books. It is against copyright laws to make any copies. Please read the FAQ document on the Kellogg-Hubbard website if you are interested in bring the StoryWalk™ Project to your community. We encourage people to bring this idea to their communities.

    Thank you!