By SEAN ROWLEY
TAHLEQUAH — firstname.lastname@example.org
If one’s job is to sell businesses and tourists on the allure of Tahlequah, it can be complicated by the presence of trash, old signage and unkempt or abandoned property.
David Moore, executive director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce; Kate Kelly, chamber tourism director; and Drew Haley, director of the Tahlequah Main Street Association, believe unsightly areas hurt the image of the city, Cherokee County and the Illinois River.
“Trash is a problem that affects us all,” Kelly said. “It is unsightly to residents and travelers, as well as giving a negative impression to those who are passing through or coming to Tahlequah to float the river, visit Cherokee cultural sites, shop or visit festivals.”
Haley said litter and old signs negatively impacted perceptions of Tahlequah and its citizens.
“When such things are allowed to continue and go on, it gives the impression that there is no one who cares enough to point it out or try to stop it,” he said.
Kelly suggested that some residents may become accustomed to local clutter until they stop noticing it, adding that control of litter requires public money.
“Since funds must be spent for pickup and removal, the money is spread more thinly,” she said. “That means perhaps the rights of way don’t get mowed as often as the should, or infrastructure maintenance and repairs are not done as frequently. Also, much of the litter we see is recyclable. If recycled, it would not only cease to be an eyesore but not take up room in landfills.”
City officials have said new ordinances are being studied and that those charged with enforcement have their hands full.
“I would actually like to see greater enforcement of the current ordinances,” Moore said. “I appreciate the city council looking at new ordinances, but until we can enforce the ones we have, what good will new restrictions do?”
Moore said if the city is short on funds or manpower, priority might be placed on certain areas.
“I think some emphasis should be placed on the entryways to the city – north, south, east and west – since those are the first parts of the city people see,” he said. “Then we could focus on downtown, Muskogee Avenue, Downing Street, Choctaw Street. Later, we could look at the residential areas.”
While the chamber and main street organizations believe more could be done to combat blight, they stress that not all responsibility rests with local government. Businesses and property owners can do their share.
Kelly said citizens can work with the city to help reduce the problems of unsightly clutter.
“Talk to your city councilor if you feel strongly about this,” she said. “They are our voices and they are there for us. Be vocal. The more interest that is shown, the more priority it will receive.”
Moore said the chamber often receives complaints from businesses about each other.
“The complaints are often valid,” he said. “If you go out and look at what they are talking about, it isn’t something petty. I have seen instances where businesses pay groundskeepers to maintain adjacent areas that are not being kept up. The chamber appreciates that, but we don't believe that is the answer. Whether a business or residence, the owners are ultimately responsible for maintenance.”
Some people may have difficulty maintaining property, but Moore suggested those with financial or physical limitations seek assistance from Habitat for Humanity, churches and neighbors.
“People can help each other,” Kelly said. “If they see someone is having trouble with their home or lawn, they can offer to help. It helps keep the neighborhood beautiful and is an opportunity to get to know your neighbors.”
Northeastern State University President Steve Turner said those in need submit requests to several campus organizations or during service events.
“Each year, our students, faculty and staff work to assist individual homeowners, schools, churches and others by completing cleanup projects,” he said. “This year during the Big Event day in March, we had almost 800 volunteers who went throughout Tahlequah and completed almost 100 beautification projects.”