How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

The elephant for Decatur residents and leaders has for years been the city’s trashy appearance. We are blessed to live in a strikingly beautiful area. The Tennessee River and its many tributaries surround us. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a unique and wonderful backdrop to an urban setting. Numerous parks — from downtown pocket parks to sprawling greenspaces like Rhodes Ferry, Delano and Point Mallard — add to the city’s potential beauty.

This beauty is too often obscured, however, by litter and weeds. The city works hard and invests heavily to attract about 100,000 visitors a year to events, but the impression many of those visitors have of Decatur is marred by its appearance.

The Decatur Daily has published hundreds of stories in which city leaders fret about the appearance of our hometown. We’ve covered dozens of meetings in which residents and officials strategize on how best to deal with the problem.

Our photographers have captured countless images of the city’s marred beauty. But in all the years citizens and officials have complained about the problem, little has been done to solve it.

“Have a bias toward action — let’s see something happen now,” former India Prime Minister Indira Ghandi reportedly said. “You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.”

The Daily decided to take the advice to heart. Rather than reporting on more studies that lament the enormity of the problem, we decided to act.

The first bite of the elephant was on Country Club Road, where it runs along the refuge. Working with councilwomen Paige Bibbee and Kristi Hill and other volunteers, assisted by Decatur Work Release Center inmates, we collected 203 bags of litter and numerous large pieces of trash. Privet was cut down and mulched.

The results surprised even us. An unattractive section of the city was transformed into a showcase of Decatur’s natural beauty.

We next tackled a portion of Dry Creek, along heavily trafficked Alabama 20. Inmates and volunteers on Thursday picked up enough litter to fill 127 garbage bags, plus 12 tires, two TVs, a highway barrel, a briefcase, a tombstone and a car bumper.

Once again, the results were astounding.

An unexpected result of our efforts has been the impact on others. A job that seemed too big to tackle suddenly seems manageable. Decatur Youth Services is planning to clean another section of Dry Creek. Decatur Utilities has decided to clean up the litter in and around the slough next to its wastewater treatment plant on Alabama 20 and the upstream drainage culvert. Decatur Fire & Rescue plans to tackle the east bank of Dry Creek. Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce has committed to cleaning up the Black Branch tributary near the Point Mallard Estates clubhouse.

Instead of being paralyzed by the enormity of the task, residents have come together with resolve. They have adopted a bias toward action.

Decatur is our home. It is a city of intense pride and hidden beauty. Working together, we can reveal that beauty for all to see. One bite at a time.

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