Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

March 11, 2014

Taking a different kind of break

College students use spring time off to help with area clean-up projects

Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Robert and Donna Soper did not know there was a huge sinkhole on their property or that it had been used as a garbage dump until after they bought the farm adjacent to them near Park City.

The sinkhole was not easily visible from the driveway leading to the property. But once they discovered it, they set out to find a way to remove the garbage that had been dumped into it for more than 50 years.

After making a couple of phone calls, Donna Soper was referred to Peggy Nims with the American Cave Conservation Association in Horse Cave.

The ACCA partners with various universities to clean up sinkholes and caves in southcentral Kentucky.  ACCA became involved with the Alternative Spring Break program about 10 years ago.

“Boston University was looking for a conservation project, so literally they found the American Cave Conservation Association through the website,” Nims said. “Their alternative spring breaks focus on environmental issues, conservation, just anything that improves the quality of life of an area. Instead of going to the beach or somewhere else, they dedicate a whole week to serving others and they travel all over the United States. This has just been a great partnership with the Glasgow-Barren County community, with folks providing housing and a lot providing showers.”

The garbage in the sinkholes contaminate the groundwater, which causes harm to the entire watershed.  

On Tuesday, Boston University students and others climbed down a ladder leading into the sinkhole on the Soper property to bag many bottles and aluminum cans, as well as other trashy items.

“This is greatly appreciated,” said Robert Soper, as he stood at the edge of the sinkhole, watching the students work. “This would have taken us forever to clean up.”

He admitted he could have easily erected a fence around the sinkhole to keep his cattle out, but the threat the trash in the sinkhole poses for the groundwater was the primary reason he wanted the sinkhole cleaned.

“It’s just not good for the environment,” he said.

It was Boston University students who again volunteered to clean up the sinkhole as part of a community service project they wanted to do in lieu of having a typical spring break.

“Basically, what we do is we send out students to about 38 different locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and we do community service for a whole week for our spring break,” said Jeff Herrera, a BU student from Middleton, Conn.

The students opted to have an alternative spring break experience because they wanted to give back to the communities and to make a change.

“I think that is the biggest thing we all can hope for, even if it’s a small change,” said Jyoti Suryadevara, a BU student of Parsippany, N.J.

The students chose southcentral Kentucky as the place they wanted to visit. The students started their community service work on Monday in Horse Cave, cleaning up two sinkholes.

“Yesterday, we actually pulled out 7,000 pounds of cans and bottles and 48 tires within 5 ½ hours,” said Suryadevara.

They also found a car at the bottom of one sinkhole.

On the Soper property, they discovered a golf cart, a boiler, a refrigerator, a washing machine and thousands of bottles and aluminum cans.

Shanon White with Barren County Solid Waste gave the students a hand Tuesday, using a wench to pull heavy items from the sinkhole, such as the washing machine.

“It’s a very good program. It’s helped us out a lot,” White said.  

White tries to work with the students nearly every year, although they don’t always come from BU.

“That says a lot about their character for them to give up their spring break to come clean out a sinkhole in Kentucky when they could be doing quite a lot of other things,” White said. “And they consider this their fun.”

The sinkhole on the Soper property is the only one the students are cleaning this week in Barren County.

The BU students won’t be able to clean the entire sinkhole on the Soper property. Another group of students from the University of Illinois will be visiting the area next week to finish the work, Nims said.

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