COVENTRY TWP.  Paul Neugebauer and his family moved from Akron to Coventry Township about five years ago. He knew moving to Coventry came with risk as the township faces financial issues, but he wanted to make the township a cleaner place.

“I decided that it was time to start going to the township meetings and see what I could learn and maybe that I could help in one way or another,” Neugebauer said. “I learned from even that very first meeting, that in Coventry Township, like probably many other small communities there are people who are truly committed to doing the real hard work that it can sometimes take to be good and mutually beneficial neighbors. It inspired me to think about what unique skills that I might have to help strengthen the community.”

Neugebauer first got involved with the Portage Lakes by being trained to do water quality testing. He tested eight different locations, two in Green and six in Coventry. Through this testing, he began to observe details about each location.

“The most startling was the fact that I was looking at the exact same trash every two weeks, some floating in the water, some on the shore and some in the parking lots,” Neugebauer said. “I started to think then, like well whose job is it to clean this up. Surely the person who put the litter here isn’t going to come back and get it, and probably everyone else who didn’t put it there will get that misguided feeling of righteousness that they would rather have that trash just stay there until the rightful owner came back to claim it.”

Knowing the trash was there, he wondered how many people would see the trash considering it was near the shores of the lake. Neugebauer began with his canoe picking up litter in the water using a litter picker, but this became a challenge with waves and changes in wind direction.

He began picking up trash along Portage Lakes Drive, but he knew he could only carry so much trash and wanted to figure out a way to dispose of it. He contacted Coventry trustee Edward Diebold, who was willing to help move the trash.

“I noticed that it was taking a few weeks to get the materials picked up, then I began to worry about the trash becoming a hazard for the automobile traffic,” Neugebauer said.

He did research on bag color and those efforts resulted in a costly investment.

“I did find a source of bright orange and yellow trash bags and took a chance,” Neugebauer said. “Those orange bags were noticed almost immediately and pictures were being posted on social media with many thanks for the efforts to clean up.”

The posts led to people getting more involved and started picking up trash on their own streets.

He estimates it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to fill a 32-gallon trash bag. His overall mission is to improve the experience of people who want to interact with the Portage Lakes. Now he wants to expand the effort to create a gathering on a regular basis to pick up trash.

“Ultimately, I want to find a way to make community litter issues be the poster child of how individual initiative on streets, blocks and in common areas can really inspire improvement on many levels,” Neugebauer said.

He said he appreciates the work the Portage Lakes Advisory Council (PLAC) to inform residents and get them more involved with the Portage Lakes and has created a Facebook group called PLX-TrashBandit where he posts pictures from different pickups. All of these elements blend together in the effort to make the area cleaner and more attractive for the community.