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As the snow began melting in early March, Laurie Hanson started noticing a serious issue on her daily runs: garbage. Popping up everywhere.
“I couldn’t believe how much garbage there was,” said Hanson of Ramsey, “[especially] because it’s kind of a rural, woodsy area.”
So Hanson started bringing along a trash bag, running out and then walking back, filling up her bag with garbage.
In the process, Hanson said she has earned a nickname. “I’m called the Trash Lady of Ramsey.”
Hanson started running 10 years ago after her daughter, Jessica, a nurse, was deployed to Afghanistan.
“She was my inspiration,” said Hanson. “My goal was that we would run a 5K together when she got back.”
Hanson, 56, thought her original goal would be a one-time deal.
“But after the first 5K with her,” Hanson said, “she told me, ‘You did so well for your first time.’ I had only trained three months. So, I thought I’d see how much faster and further I could go.”
Hanson ran a 10K the following fall and then a half-marathon the next year, where she said, “I thought I was going to die.”
She survived that experience and has progressed to longer races. Last year, she ran five competitive races, including the Boston and Chicago marathons. At the Minnesota State Fair Milk Run 5K, she won her age group.
But all of the races she was going to run this year have been canceled.
“It was kind of depressing when [the cancellations] started happening,” said Hanson. “For 10 years, I’ve been running to compete. I said, ‘I just can’t imagine running for fun.’ I was looking for a purpose to keep running.”
She found it. She keeps track of her daily efforts in a journal that she started on March 23.
“I thought I’d get to 15 bags,” said Hanson. “I kept going and then I thought I’d stop when I got to 100 bags, but I’ve kept going. I’ve been getting up to three bags a day.”
In addition to her runs, she’s walked over 110 miles. As of the first week in June, she had picked up 141 bags of trash.
“I’ve picked up some stretches three times,” she said. “Picked them up and then several weeks later they need it again.”
Hanson notified the city of Ramsey about what she was doing and was told where she could drop off the trash bags.
“I wanted the city to be aware,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was dumping my garbage in city parks. I leave the nice, tidy bags next to trash receptacles.”
Hanson said her husband, Robert, was initially skeptical.
“He kind of rolled his eyes and said, ‘Oh really, you want to pick up garbage?” she said. “I said, ‘Why not? You should see how much there is.’ ”
Hanson said she and her husband have a history of volunteering with organizations including 4-H and the Bell Museum. They were training to be Minnesota naturalists, but that’s on hold now. Earlier this month, Hanson and her husband adopted a park near their home and will be landscaping and, naturally, picking up trash.
People have noticed Hanson’s efforts.
“I’ve had a couple of gentlemen say to me, ‘Good idea,’ and that it had inspired them to pick up,” she said. “My daughter said when she was out running, she noticed how much trash there was and she started picking up. I’m hoping it spreads. It’s amazing to me. When you’re driving on streets, you don’t notice the garbage.
“I feel like I’m helping out the environment and like I’ve done something worthwhile.”