The West Orange Trail spans 20.8 miles across Orange County. The paved trail is popular with bikers and runners and spans multiple West Orange municipalities, from Killarney to Oakland to Winter Garden.
Rob Watson, a Winter Garden resident, is one of many residents who frequent the trail. But since he started biking there regularly in 2017, he said litter accumulates on one-quarter-mile portion of the trail directly behind Ocoee High School. For almost two years now, he has taken it upon himself to clean it up when he can.
“This spot here is by far the trashiest,” he said.
Watson said he could collect an entire trash bag full of litter from the ground at times, but the garbage accumulates all over again.
Most of the litter comes from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s, which are located just down the road from the trail’s entrance on Apopka-Vineland Road.
“I could spend every day of my life coming out here and cleaning up after these guys, but that’s not my job,” Watson said. “That’s their job. They bought it. They can put it in the garbage can that’s right there.”
Daily maintenance of the trail is conducted by Orange County’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the quarter-mile behind Ocoee High School is well-known among the staff.
Matt Suedmeyer, manager of the Parks and Recreation Department of Orange County, said the portion of the trail is the worst spot in the county in terms of garbage and litter. He sends staff out every morning to pick up the garbage and said the Kiwanis Club has gone out to clean that portion of the trail, as well.
Suedmeyer confirmed students leave school in the afternoon, get food from the nearby stores and then leave the trash on the trail while returning to the school for extracurricular activities.
Parks and Recreation staff installed a garbage can at the gate where students exit the school onto the trail last year and contacted the principal for assistance in stopping the litter, but the problem persisted, Suedmeyer said. He has been hesitant to add another can because the current garbage can is never full, but staff still will be installing one in the area, he said.
“It’s mainly just high-school kids being litterbugs,” Suedmeyer said.
Waston said he has called and left voicemails regarding the litter with the principal of Ocoee High School but has not heard back. He said he has yet to file a complaint with Orange County, because he does not want to see the county spend taxpayer money on something he believes the students could clean themselves.
“I would like to see someone talk to the students at the school and really hold them to account,” Watson said. “Talk to the administrators and really make it their problem, because it really is their problem. These are the students. (It’s) undeniable at this point after I’ve observed all this time — it’s always with the school cycle that this trash problem picks up.”
Suedmeyer said anyone wanting to volunteer to clean the trail can contact the Parks and Recreation Department of Orange County or utilize the Adopt a Trail Program.
Ocoee High Principal Laura Beusse did not respond to requests for comment, but a public information officer for Orange County Public Schools said the district has not received any complaints and that the school’s agriculture students regularly clean the trail.
“These are high-schoolers,” Watson said. “I’m constantly being told how the next generation is going to care for the Earth more than the prior generation. I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of that here.”