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Residents are concerned with papers, empties, cigarette butts, food containers and chip bags in the Gateway to Nahanni.

The last-stop before Nahanni National Park, Fort Simpson has a litter problem that’s left Darlene Tsetso-Horassi and her volunteers picking up trash in high-traffic areas to beautify the village for tourists and residents. 

The litter frustrates Tsetso-Horassi, who’s manager of the Village of Fort Simpson Visitor Information Centre and has a “huge passion for keeping trash in its place.”

Darlene and Evander Tsetso-Horassi picks up trash along the main road.
Photo courtesy of Darlene Tsetso-Horassi

“It makes no sense because there are trash bins and recycling bins all along the main road, but people just aren’t doing their part,” she told News/North. 

She organizes regular clean-ups, usually in the evening or Saturday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. They tend to occur before and after community events, when the trash issues tend to spike. 

For instance, there was a clean-up before National Indigenous Peoples Day, and another after Dehcho annual assembly. There’s also tentative plans to organize another outing for July 29. 

However, after a recent outing on July 13, and the following July 15 council meeting, she received an anonymous complaint. It said the town was “dirty.”

“That just really rubbed me the wrong way,” she said. “It was really upsetting.”

It’s frustrating because she and her staff work hard to clean the community, she said. On Facebook, she posted a sign on a town fence saying “Before You Complain… …Have You Volunteered Yet???”

Her visitor’s centre season runs from May 17 to September 30, but “recycling and cleaning up trash is an all year event in my books,”  Tsetso-Horassi said. 

When organizing an outing, she tries to provide incentives: the first clean-up program offered prizes for the largest garbage bag, and largest bag of recyclables. That event had a turnout of about seven, she said. 

When volunteers are done, there are free snacks — meat and cheese trays, crackers, cookies, and drinks. 

At the last outing there were ten participants. They told her it was a good feeling to participate.

“When we’re on the sides of the roads picking up trash, people in our town see us and are driving by us, and (congratulating them), but why can’t you come out here and help us?” Tsetso-Horassi said.

Patrick Rowe, owner of Rowe’s Recycling, said the town should do more to get behind pick-up efforts. 

He said he wants to meet with Darlene and to entice more people, because “the town’s looking pretty crappy,” he said. 

He added the village staff should also pitch in to “lead by example.”

“If they started doing it, I think more people would start falling into place.”

He would supply a truck if the volunteers need it, and hopes to encourage more resident involvement. 

“I got to either put up or shut up,” he said. “If I’m not out there, obviously I can’t really say someone else should. But we will put our money where our mouth is. We’ll help out Darlene anyway we can.” 

Meanwhile, Darlene Tsetso-Horassi plans to organize more clean-ups.

“I just want a huge vacuum to go around this town,” she said. 

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Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...