Keep Amarillo Beautiful? It's done

Keep Amarillo Beautiful? It's done

By John Kanelis

Dusty McGuire founded an organization, Keep Amarillo Beautiful, after seeing how other cities through Texas had sought to improve their physical appearance.

Now, though, she laments what she believes is the city's lack of commitment to what she and other concerned residents created more than a quarter-century ago.

What's happened to the organization, from which McGuire stepped aside in 2011? Keep Amarillo Beautiful has gone dormant. And she believes that this year -- with the abundance of rain and the weed growth that has exploded all across the city -- Keep Amarillo Beautiful's mission is more important than ever.

McGuire said she got resistance from the then-City Commission when she began the organization and believes the current City Council and senior administrators do not share her enthusiasm for helping beautify the city.

Mayor Paul Harpole – who came to office in 2011 pledging to rid the city of graffiti that scars buildings all over town – echoed McGuire's concern about the city's lack of push for city beautification, but said, "We have accepted a lot of volunteer help" to beautify many areas of Amarillo.

"We've been hit by two circumstances," Harpole said. "We have gone through extreme drought and then we've had extreme growth (of weeds)" caused by heavier-than-normal rainfall during the spring and summer of 2015.

"We're spending a lot of money now mowing weeds all over town," Harpole said. He estimates the city has spent more than $100,000 extra this year alone in mowing weeds on "private property that's been ignored by the property owners."

He said the city is "still behind the curve" on beautification efforts, but added that the Parks and Recreation Department currently is mowing about 3,000 acres of public property weekly to try to stay on top of the weed growth.

Scott McDonald, who heads the city's Department of Building Safety – and whose office is in charge of "anything dealing with weeds or junk on property" – said the city "is working hard to make Amarillo as beautiful as it can be."

He said his department "has had an incredibly busy season."

McDonald said this year the city has sent letters to 13,841 property owners "telling them it's time to mow. That's a lot of postage." He added that "we want the property owners to be responsible for their property."

The city, Harpole said, also is working with the Texas Department of Transportation to ensure the state highway rights-of-way are kept clear of the weeds that have exploded. "It looks bad out there, particularly for motorists who come through town and see all that growth," Harpole said.

Do not, though, suggest that McGuire has given up on her quest to beautify the city.

McGuire grew up in Sanford, in Hutchinson County. She moved away to attend North Texas State University in Denton. "I went there for a year," McGuire said. "Then I moved to Dallas."

She then married her late husband, Dick, who died 13 years ago. "We would have celebrated our 53rd anniversary this year," McGuire said.

Along the way -- in 1989 -- she founded Keep Amarillo Beautiful.

One of KAB's aims, McGuire said, was to plant trees – lots of them – throughout the city.

McGuire recalled that although residents were "interested in what we were doing," City Hall was slow to buy into what KAB was attempting to achieve. "I don't think the city was interested at all in the beginning," McGuire said.

One major project that KAB started – but then watched fizzle out – was a recycling program involving huge Dumpster-like containers. "Wal-Mart became involved," she said. "It took a special kind of truck to lift those containers," McGuire said.

"I think Keep Amarillo Beautiful became a catalyst for recycling," she said. McGuire credited former City Manager Alan Taylor – who then was serving as assistant city manager during John Ward's tenure as the city's chief administrator – with becoming a valuable ally for KAB.

The recycling effort didn't last long. The city and KAB pulled the plug on it because, according to McGuire, residents were throwing trash into the recycling bins. She mentioned "fish parts" and other non-recyclable items being tossed into the containers. The containers' odor became too foul, he recalled.

McGuire regrets that KAB couldn't keep the recycling effort going. She said the City Commission "didn't buy in," although McGuire said the senior administrators, led by John Ward, gave KAB "good support."

What was her greatest success running KAB? "Planting trees was our biggest success," McGuire said. "We vowed to plant one tree for every resident living in the city by the turn of the century," she recalled. McGuire estimated that KAB planted roughly 120,000 trees throughout the city. "Citizens did it," she said. "And we started composting."

What is her greatest disappointment with KAB? McGuire had to think for a moment. "I guess it would be my failure to persuade Amarillo residents to stop littering," McGuire said. "But I think we still had less trash."

McGuire said, "We seem to have this mentality in our community to 'let someone else pick it up.'" But she expressed pride in working with Potter and Randall County sheriff's departments to get jail trusties assigned to pick up the trash along city streets.

McGuire said she wishes the city would commit itself more to the principles espoused by KAB, which is to beautify the city whenever and wherever possible.

She also lamented the decline of interest in what she called the "senior park" at Ellwood Park, next to a retirement community complex of condos and apartments. "We tried to promote the park through the media," McGuire said, explaining that the park featured low-impact exercise equipment that elderly residents could use to get and stay fit while enjoying the site at the corner of Ellwood Park.

McGuire helped develop the park, working with the Amarillo Parks and Recreation Department.

Harpole had high praise for McGuire's dedication to beautification of the city. "It's a concern that we have and the city is working on it, but not everyone is as dedicated to this effort as Dusty has been. She's done a good job with Keep Amarillo Beautiful."

All told, though, McGuire expressed disappointment at the political climate at City Hall. Is there a possibility that KAB could be reinvigorated? "Not now," McGuire said. She believes the city should hire a full-time beautification coordinator, similar to what she said exists in other comparably sized cities in Texas.

Harpole said the city faces budget constraints that limit what it can do. "We just don't have a lot of extra dollars to put into this," the mayor said of the cleanup effort. "I don't disagree with Dusty," Harpole said, "but we have to be fiscally responsible."

"God created our environment," said McGuire – who was named the Amarillo Globe-News Woman of the Year in 1993 for her work with Keep Amarillo Beautiful. "But we have to take care of what God created," she said.

McGuire also places a bit of blame on beautification de-emphasis on "social media, which makes young people increasingly unaware of their surroundings. We need to take better care of where we live."

McDonald also agrees with McGuire's dedication to beautification, but he added, "It's always easier to identify problems and it's not as easy to find solutions. We're working on so many fronts – including graffiti abatement – we're combating it all without an increase in staff."