Long walks, less litter: Mitchell woman tidies the neighborhood while getting exercise

Mitchell woman tidies the neighborhood while getting exercise

Sheri Schmitz, of Mitchell, combines her regular walks for exercise with a desire to clean the sidewalks and streets of litter. She often takes two-hour walks in the morning, toting two recycling bags with her. She fills the bags with refuse she finds along the way, then brings the bags home and separates the recyclables from the pure garbage. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Sheri Schmitz likes to take walks.

She doesn’t like litter.

So for the past several years she’s been combining the two into a project that sees her get her regular dose of physical exercise while also keeping the sidewalks and streets of Mitchell clean by picking up litter off the streets and sending it to the recycling center or the garbage pile.

“It’s not quite daily, I try to do it four or five time a week. I combine the exercise with doing some good. A little bit of service,” Schmitz told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview.

She estimates she’s been taking her walks for about six or seven years, and there always seems to be something cluttering up the ground on one of the many walking routes she takes near her home in east Mitchell. She sees pop cans, water bottles, wrappers of all kinds. All discarded by careless pedestrians or tossed out the window by thoughtless drivers.


She began bringing a couple of reusable bags with her and drops items she finds in them as she takes her roughly one to two-hour constitutional walk. It was a response to her disappointment in the amount of trash she would find lying around. Soon, what began as a way to stay in shape and get the blood flowing turned into a combination of physical exercise and environmental cleaning.

She has a planned route that she changes up regularly to make sure she doesn’t retread the same path too often, sometimes not repeating a route for two weeks. That change ensures that she is always finding a fresh deposit of rubbish on a path she may not have walked for some time.

Even though she walks a set path each time, she almost always returns with two full bags of trash. She doesn’t set out to fill them, it just happens that there is that much to pick up on her regular routes.

“I always carry two bags, and I come back with two full ones. It just seems like by the time I finish my walk, I have them filled out,” Schmitz said.

The filled bags are toted back to her home, where she separates the potential recyclables from the pure garbage. The items that can be recycled, such as some of the plastics, are taken to a recycling center. The actual garbage gets added to the household trash and is taken away to the landfill with the rest of the city refuse.

Schmitz has earned the admiration of several people around her neighborhood who have taken note of her public service. Aaron Klinger, a family friend, said he has watched her doing her work for years and is always inspired by the extra effort she puts in to keep the neighborhood clean and presentable.

He said it’s rare to see anybody caring as much as she does about the general appearance of the neighborhood, much less someone who takes the time to bring the refuse home, sort it and properly dispose of it.

“You don't see people doing this kind of stuff, especially in our day and age. She is literally picking up garbage off the ground and making it look nicer,” Klinger said.


He said he takes inspiration from the work she puts in on her own time for the betterment of the community.

Schmitz has worked as a medication aide at Firesteel Healthcare Center for 11 years, a position she said she enjoys. She usually works starting in the afternoons, after her routine walk and garbage collection is completed in the morning.

She brings that fastidiousness to tidiness to the job with her, which is something her boss, Carey Brenner, Senior Executive Director at Firesteel Healthcare Center, sees on a regular basis.

“She’s very particular. She’s kind of a neat freak and wants things done just so, that’s for sure,” Brenner said.

And people along her route are known to approve of her work. While she said she doesn’t get an overwhelming amount of praise for her chores, there are more than a few who will give her a thumbs up or will poke their heads out the door and give her a thank as she makes her way down the path.

It’s a nice acknowledgement, but she said she doesn’t do it for the praise. In fact, she would be just as happy taking her walks and not needing her gathering bags at all. Garbage shouldn’t be on the ground in the first place, and she quietly wishes people who put it there would think twice before tossing their waste out into the community.

But since there are many thoughtless people out there who don’t think twice, Schmitz plans to bring those bags along on her walks. She takes her walks year-round, though those outings are almost halted most winters, when snow and ice makes taking a casual walk treacherous. She has been able to keep her walks up through December this year, however, thanks to a notable lack of precipitation and dry sidewalks to safely navigate.

It’s something she can’t help but do, she said. Her walks help combine some morning meditation with civic improvement, picking up one wrapper or water bottle at a time, getting it off the street and into the recycling bin or trash can where it belongs.


And it’s good for her, she said.

“Well, my doctor says I’m in good shape,” Schmitz said.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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