Man springing for a spruce-up
and Carrie Click
Mystery work crews have been sprucing up public property in Glenwood Springs of late, creating quite a buzz in neighborhoods.
The crew members are not city employees, and they’ve been spotted sweeping bus stops, and sidewalks at the post office, library and in residential neighborhoods. The crews rake leaves in parks, alleys and in the streets. They pick up litter and trash, and clean whatever is in their path.
Don Kaufman said 20 to 30 people raked and cleaned up his front yard on Wednesday morning. They’re also sweeping sidewalks and the roads.
Bill Kaufman, Don’s father and a resident of the 700 block of Bennett, noticed a crew in front of his house this week. He said they hand-swept sections that the city’s streetsweepers miss, and raked up leaves from the city right-of-way between the sidewalk and street.
“They did a beautiful job,” Kaufman said.
The only explanation Kaufman could imagine is the crews might be performing useful public service in lieu of jail time.
Jeff Hiltner, an eccentric construction company owner who lives at 737 Bennett Ave., rounds up the crews. He said he pays them out of his own pocket.
While dispatching workers, recruited by word of mouth, Hiltner explained his mission.
“People can use the Christmas money,” he said. “And we’re just trying to make Glenwood Springs look good.”
A sign out in front of his house says, “Help us clean up.”
The house itself is a yellow Victorian with a variety of other colors spray-painted on the siding. Jack Woolsey, Hiltner’s longtime assistant, said Hiltner plans to repaint the house and is testing out colors.
Hiltner, who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 21 years, said he started the work crews about a month ago. Since then, his crews have branched out to New Castle, Silt and Carbondale.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” he said.
Aubre Amaya, 18, was part of a four-member crew sweeping the sidewalk in front of Safeway Friday morning, and raking leaves in the landscaped section between the sidewalk and parking lot. It was Amaya’s first day on the job.
“I heard about it from my cousin,” Amaya said as he swept the bus stop clean. “I dropped by his house and they set me up with this crew.”
Hiltner pays his crew every night. They work from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Woolsey said the crews worked on the Boy Scout Trail picking up trash, and clearing brush near the Riverside School in New Castle.
On Wednesday, a crew of six teens was busy sweeping, raking and clearing leaves in front of the Glenwood Springs Library.
Library staff assumed it was their normal maintenance crew at work until they took a closer look to see Hiltner’s crew.
Hiltner said he started the cleanup work himself, in his own neighborhood, then it spread from there. “I see something that needs to be done, and I do it. The ideas just come to me,” he said.
For example, last week Hiltner saw a “mess” at the former Smokin’ Willies restaurant on 6th Street. “So I just started raking leaves,” he said.
The same thing happened when Hiltner noticed litter in parking lots at City Market, Clark’s and 7 Eleven in Carbondale. “I figured `What the heck. I’ll just pick it up myself.'”
Hiltner said he has met lots of nice people during his month-long cleanup campaign, and many people are saying, “Thanks.”
“It feels good,” he said.
He has purchased gloves, rakes, brooms, dustpans and trash bags for the crews, and Woolsey said he has taken many loads of trash to the dump. The crews is also hauling bags of leaves to the leaf recycling drop-off at the Glenwood Springs Rodeo Arena.
That may have prompted the crew’s brief work Friday in a grove of trees along Airport Road along the edge of the Cardiff Glen subdivision.
In this case, the pattern of jumping in to clean things up before checking with property owners didn’t work out so well. The grove, which is occasionally used as an outdoor education area by Sopris Elementary School, was intended to be left in a natural condition for the time being.
After Woolsey arrived toting a chain saw, neighbors explained the situation. He packed up the crew and moved on to the next work site.
Hiltner is a framing subcontractor, and he said his last big job was on an upscale house in Aspen.
“I’ve got a successful business, but the time came to step down. My goal now is not to make money,” he said.
Part of Hiltner’s decision to step away from his Aspen business was the daily grind of driving up and down valley. “That wasn’t cutting it,” he said.
At about the same time Hiltner started his cleaning crews, he also lost his cell phone. Today he jokes, “I can get a lot more done without it.”
Although Hiltner has divested himself from the Aspen action, he said he is developing property in the Silt area.
Hiltner said more and more people are getting involved with his freelance cleanup project, and he hopes it continues. “It’s getting bigger. I can feel it,” he said.
Kaufman, who lives a block south of Hiltner, supports Hiltner’s project.
“I think it’s great. My neighbors will be dumbfounded about who is doing it,” Kaufman said.
As for the legalities of private citizens cleaning up public property, Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Robin Millyard said property owners are responsible for cleaning the sidewalks in front of their property, plus the strip of right-of-way between sidewalks and streets, and the curbs and gutters.
“I don’t think he’s doing anything illegal,” Millyard said.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.