Cindy Irwin has put many walking miles on her shoes, and although exercise is one of the benefits, Irwin is also motivated by something else: keeping the environment clean.
In approximately 2005, Irwin was out walking one day just past her Mary Lake subdivision when she saw a half mile stretch off the road that was filled with garbage. After still seeing it there for several weeks, she brought bags to clean it up. She has been picking up trash off roads and trails ever since, often walking two hours a day.
“I don’t want to look at this and I don’t think anyone else should have to either,” she said.
Her routes vary but generally she walks through Westport and parts of Waunakee. Irwin loves seeing all the beautiful yards and landscaping while out walking.
“We live in such a beautiful area — might as well keep it clean,” she said.
The garbage is at its worst after the snow has melted each spring, she said. She sometimes has to leave filled bags off the side of the road and go back home to pick them up in her car because there is so much.
Irwin has picked up all sorts of things over the years and separates recyclables from trash. The most common item she has picked up is plastic. She’s found bags of clothes and shoes that were caked in mud, money, debit cards, a wallet, personal, rebate and paychecks, a used pregnancy test, and “other things you don’t want to know about,” she said.
She is out so often that others occasionally stop to talk to her about what she is doing. One lady saw Irwin at a stop sign and thought the bags of garbage were weights. After understanding it was garbage, she expressed her appreciation of Irwin’s efforts. Her favorite interaction though was with a woman and two young girls she met one day. One of the girls said, “Thank you for helping keep Mother Earth clean,” which really touched Irwin. She then informed Irwin that they also pick up trash at their school.
She loves to walk in the morning, and for a while did so when it was still dark out. The wildlife and beautiful skies make it so peaceful that early, she said. However, after being close enough to hear coyotes snarling one day, she decided it was best to wait until it’s light out. She feels safe walking here, but does appreciate the bikers who come behind her and let her know they are on her left or right to help avoid any collision.
In addition to the wildlife, beautiful yards, and gorgeous skies, one of Irwin’s favorite things she’s seen while walking is sidewalk art with the words “Keep it Clean” on it. She knows there are many other individuals who also help keep our environment clean, as well as those who are part of the Adopt-a-Highway program. She has much appreciation and admiration for all of them. She is also thankful for her kind neighbors who have given her pick-up sticks to use.
Irwin grew up in the town of Springfield and graduated from Waunakee High School in 1980. She is married to John Irwin, who grew up as an “Army brat,” and lived around the world before moving to Madison as a child. The couple has resided in the Mary Lake neighborhood for 30 years.
They love camping and traveling in and out of Wisconsin, as well as craft beer. No matter where they travel, they bring their bags to clean up trash. Their most memorable trip was to Nebraska in August 2017 to view the solar eclipse. Not only was the eclipse itself amazing, especially when the nocturnal birds came out, but so were the people that they met. “It was one of the best days of my life,” she said.
She is humble but quietly passionate about keeping the area clean and hopes that others may be inspired to also bring a bag with them while they are out walking or enjoying the parks. When she is asked why she does this, she responds simply, “Why wouldn’t I?”