Helen Hoenig’s mission: to make Duvall the cleanest little town on the Eastside

  • Written by Connie Berg

vvhelenHelen Hoenig can’t stop herself from cleaning up. Here, she clears off an overhead branch. Photo by Connie BergHelen Hoenig is a remarkable Duvall resident who has made a tremendous difference in our community.

What does Helen do? She picks up pieces of trash. She has been spotted by so many people she has become a phenomenon in Duvall and on Facebook. She was even featured on KOMO 4 News and a prominent radio station. I had the honor and pleasure of discovering who the mystery trash lady was and interviewed her to find out why she is so obsessed with cleaning up Duvall.

Helen grew up in the Northwest.  She moved away for many years and after being stationed in Vietnam, and living in Hawaii, Japan and Washington, D.C., she finally moved back to the Northwest four years ago.  
Helen has lived in Duvall for the past two years. Before you try and stereotype her, I will tell you that she is a successful, confident and opinionated businesswoman. She is not a mild mannered little Trash Lady. Her determination enabled her to accomplish all that she has.  She has hiked steep hills, climbed into deep ditches, and lugged giant pieces of garbage up small ravines

When Helen first moved to Duvall, she started working out at Duvall Fitness. She lives close to town so she decided to start walking to the club for her workouts with Nicole Pitts, her personal trainer. On her walks, Helen noticed a lot of garbage along the road.

In February of this year Helen started picking up a few pieces of garbage on her way to Duvall Fitness. By the time she got to the gym, her arms were overflowing with trash.  

After that, she started wearing gloves and carrying a bag for trash.  Her focus soon broadened and eventually she was all over and around Duvall picking up trash with one of her multiple trash grabbers.  

Everyone who sees Helen wants to know who she is. She is Helen, the  “Super Trash Picker Upper” in Duvall!
Helen was reluctant to meet with me because she didn’t want the recognition.  She didn’t start picking up trash for the notoriety, she did it because it was really bothering her.  

She was quick to inform me that she has had a lot of help along the way. Many people have honked at Helen to thank her for picking up garbage. People have given her plants, bouquets of flowers, cards, and she even received a gift certificate for a manicure and a safety vest.

One of the most inspiring notes she received was from a dad who wrote a quick thank you on a piece of scratch paper and handed it to Helen through his car window. The note said he was grateful for her example to his two sons who were in the car with him.  Specific people that Helen would like to thank include:
Scott Lennon who gave her an orange vest and goggles to keep her safe.

Mark Burdette who photographed Helen and her mountains of trash.  

Bill Theriault who helped her retrieve 15 assorted balls from aggressive blackberry bushes on property adjacent to Acres of Diamonds.  

Skylar for carrying heavy bags of trash for Helen.  

Public Works for their support and all the other unsung heroes involved in this movement.

Barbie for taking a load of trash near Taylor Park

So many people have stopped to thank Helen while she is out picking up trash. She greatly appreciates all the support she receives. Helen is very focused when she is picking up garbage.  Her first priority is for her safety and the safety of others.  

If you see Helen and want to thank her, just give her a big wave and she will get the message. Honking sometimes startles her so waving is great. She is so grateful for the outpouring of gratitude from the Duvall community.

I asked Helen to give me a “re-cap” of Duvall and her garbage discoveries.

Helen’s worst area for trash in Duvall?

Old Big Rock Road behind Safeway was at the top of the list.  That small area took her several days to clean up. Roger Jones, the manager of Safeway, is working with Helen on a plan to keep it cleaned up.

Helen’s biggest disappointment:  

Cherry Valley Road by Cherry Valley Elementary. The road and property on the left side of Cherry Valley Road, leading up to Cherry Valley Elementary was full of garbage and hypodermic needles, more than any other area in Duvall.  Helen believes we should pay special attention to areas leading up to our schools.  We should show our children that we take pride in keeping our community clean.

Helen’s biggest frustrations:  

Old abandoned realtor and political signs.  If you put up a sign, make sure you take it down. Tons of bottles, especially beer bottles.  Some of them seemed to build up in the same places as if there are people who continually dump in the same spots.   Old abandoned car parts and hub caps. Botts’ dots, the round non-reflective raised pavement markers – she found hundreds of them.  She would like to see someone invent something that would be a better alternative.

Helen’s biggest concern:  

Cigarette butts!  She picked up thousands of them. They are considered hazardous waste because their chemicals leak into our water supplies.   

Suggestions from Helen:

More garbage cans are needed around the city and on our trails.

“Do not litter” signs need to put up around the city and in our parks.

Pick up trash while you are walking in and around Duvall and on the trails.

“Butt” Buckets could be put up on some store fronts so smokers have a place to put their cigarette butts. If you smoke, keep a “Butt” can in your car.

Start a “Butt” Payback Plan!  If people were paid a penny for each cigarette butt they turned in, there wouldn’t be thousands of “butts” all over the ground.

Encourage your kids to get involved in picking up trash.  If you model the behavior, they will learn it!
Helen asks that we all take breaks from our cell phones, computers, TV’s and video games. She recommends getting outside and going for a walk, taking a few minutes to rest your eyes and appreciate all the beauty that surrounds us.

Interesting facts:

Helen is HIGHLY allergic to bees yet she still gets outside and picks up trash!

Helen thought she had discovered some very old American Indian art while she was out in the woods picking up trash. What she discovered was the wonderful artistry of Dan Cautrell. She has since been in touch with Dan as she appreciates art.  The wood carving she found was part of Dan’s “Offerings to the Wind Project.”
There is a fine for littering if you are caught. If you throw out garbage it’s a $204 fine.  If you throw out a cigarette butt, it’s over a thousand dollars because it is considered hazardous waste. There is a phone number  and website where you can report someone if you see them litter:  Unfortunately, this program was “temporally” halted in 2011, due to state budget cuts. (Anyone interested in funding it?)

Helen wants to encourage people to keep the beauty of the Northwest. Years ago, Washington state license plates read “Keep Washington Green.”

Helen loves that slogan and wishes it would return. Even though she left the Northwest many years ago, now that she is back, she has a mission.  Helen would like to make Duvall the cleanest little town on the Eastside.

With all of the trash she has picked up, I think she may have already reached her goal!

In addition to her interviews on TV and radio, Helen has also been nominated for the Local Rise and Shine Award and honored with a proclamation by the City of Duvall at last week’s council meeting.

To honor Helen, Random Acts of Kindness in Duvall and the City of Duvall have proclaimed that the first Sunday of each month be set aside to clean up garbage in and around Duvall.

By designating Sparkling Sundays, we can all help to support Helen’s efforts. This is a giant Random Act of Kindness for Helen.  Make a conscious effort to pick up trash and make Duvall the cleanest little town on the Eastside. Together we can continue to make Duvall SPARKLE. (If you don’t live in Duvall, you can pick up trash in your own town!) 

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