Dwight Watt Internet Article #23

#23 Keep America Beautiful 3/19/1999

#23- Keep America Beautiful

Keep America Beautiful and all the related organizations are over 30 years old. The organization was founded in the 1960's by Lady Bird Johnson when she was First Lady. Most First Ladies have a pet project and this was hers. The object was to beautify our highways. The sides of the highways were being covered by tons of signs (billboards) and with litter. The fight continues to today. In the last few Georgia legislative sessions one of the big fights has been whether to allow billboard owners to cut trees that block their signs.

Although only a little progress has been made on litter over the past 30 years, substantial progress has been made on removing the billboards and making it where they do not block you from seeing the natural sights or ruin the natural sights. Most of the billboards still remaining are much better in appearance than the old ones. The litter problem has been attacked in several ways including community service sentences and adopt-a-highway. However we just seem to not be able to convince people to hold on to trash and take it to a trash can. They would whether have a spotless interior of their car and a filthy roadside. If you have ever ridden with me you would know there are usually at least several empty Coke bottles laying in my back seat.

Now given all the great work that Keep America Beautiful has done over the years, I was amazed to read in the Swainsboro Georgia "Forest-Blade" last week about the approach that their affiliate Keep Southeast Georgia Beautiful is taking. They have seized on a nostalgic approach, but failed to see it goes against their beliefs. In order to educate people on litter they are placing sets of signs by the road in the Burma Shave tradition to tell people to not litter.

However being a child of the 60's I do not remember Lady Bird Johnson excluding Burma Shave signs from her campaign to remove all billboards from the highways. I suspect when she hears about this one in Texas, that she will not be a happy camper. The billboard companies have found every loophole they can for the past 30 years to stay in business. Some have left that business to go on to others, most notably Ted Turner.

To maintain their integrity, which Keep America Beautiful has done well over the years, they need to drop this campaign. Some signs are needed on our roads. Those that mark speed limits, streets, directions and also the signs telling us what services are available at what exits. However we do not need rows of signs telling us to clean up our highways. It is just more pollution. The reason given is that this educates the public, but what do billboards do? Billboards are there to educate us on products or locations of services we may want or need. I encourage Keep America Beautiful and Keep Southeast Georgia Beautiful to continue their excellent efforts to clean up our highways, but remember be part of the solution and not become part of the problem.


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