If you drive down Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue during one of Beverly Schmidt’s twice-daily walks, you might mistake her for an exerciser: neon baseball cap, lean figure, quick stride.
And while she is certainly maintaining physical fitness on those walks — she totals seven miles per day — Ms. Schmidt has a greater goal: preserving the beauty of her street by picking up any and all litter she finds.
“I was outraged at the beauty of this place and how it’s defiled every single day,” she said. “I feel like I turned it from a road to be ashamed of to a road to be proud of.”
Eleven years after she began her efforts, the Riverhead Town Council declared Tuesday “Beverly Schmidt Day” in honor of the litter-cleaning crusader.
“Volunteers like Beverly Schmidt are a vital and positive force in our community,” Town Supervisor Sean Walter wrote in the proclamation. “I urge all of our citizens to join [her] in an effort to preserve the beauty and wonder of the lands, skies and water of the earth.”
Ms. Schmidt was motivated in part by tragedy: soon after she first moved onto Tuthills Lane, her golden retriever, Casey, swallowed a corncob that had been dumped in the road from one of the farms. Casey had surgery to remove the cob, but then quickly fell ill and died.
Once she got her next dog, Sophie, Ms. Schmidt began picking up trash during their walks together.
“I did it for the whole time I had Sophie, and she died in March 2014,” she said. “So I’ve continued to do it, and it makes me feel good that I can contribute and keep [the road] looking nice.”
Ms. Schmidt’s route forms a loop along both sides of Tuthills Lane: she begins at home, walks north to Church Lane, then back south all the way to Route 25 and finally home again. Each walk is about 3.5 miles, and she does one in the morning and one in the evening.
Ms. Schmidt walks at a brisk pace (stop to take her photo at your own risk — you’ll probably have to jog to catch up again). Mid-stride, she sweeps twigs and rocks out of the street, and she only halts to stoop and pick up trash.
She picks up about one plastic shopping bag of garbage each walk, and the most common pieces of refuse she finds are cigarette butts and beer cans.
“I say I have a pack-a-day habit because I pick up about 20 cigarette butts a day,” Ms. Schmidt said. “I’ve never been able to catch the guy who drops two Bud Light cans every single day, one going and one coming. Before work and after work, it must be.”
No unsightly object is safe from Ms. Schmidt’s quest. She prunes dandelions near the road since they are “bullies,” and she even throws away unused phone books and circulars.
“It is compulsive,” she said. “I know it is. But if I’ve got to have an addiction, it’s better than a lot of others.”
Beyond the aesthetics, Ms. Schmidt believes her routine has given her a more meaningful relationship with her community.
“The neighborhood is my social connection,” she said. “[Cleaning] has made me meet all of those people, which is great.”
And her neighbors have noticed her efforts, too.
“I’ve lived here since 1965, and she’s the first person that ever did that,” said Ron Schmitt, who lives just a few houses down from Ms. Schmidt. “She does it rain or shine — if it’s raining, she’s got a coat on, and if it’s nighttime, she’s got a big orange jacket.”
In fact, Mr. Schmitt was the person who recommended Ms. Schmidt for a town proclamation in the first place.
“I just thought that somebody should recognize the person that’s been doing this public service for this many years,” he said. “Nobody notices it.”
At the end of her morning walk on Tuesday, Ms. Schmidt returned home to a bottle of sparkling wine and a card in front of her backyard gate — a gift, she said, from neighbors to congratulate her on “Beverly Schmidt Day.”
Ms. Schmidt hopes she can motivate others to be proactive as well.
“I hope I’m an inspiration to other people,” she said. “It’s not like I’m doing it because I love it. I get satisfaction out of it, but who loves picking up junk?”