Hendersonville resident Trenton Pierson has been talking trash for about a month now.
But those who’ve seen him hunched over along Sanders Ferry Road know he means business as he stuffs large contractor-size bags with discarded bottles, cans and items one would never fathom finding.
Some have stopped to offer money to help pay for his clean-up efforts while others have applauded his efforts on social media.
Pierson says he’s just trying to do his part to make the community he has come to love in the short time he and his family have lived here a better place.
A native of Southern California, Pierson relocated first to Dallas, Texas and then Middle Tennessee as a strategy director for a merchandise company. His family had lived on Hendersonville’s Walton Ferry/Sanders Ferry peninsula for about a year when he learned in June his position was being cut amid a global pandemic.
For months he’s submitted resumes, made local connections and inched toward starting his own company when he’s not driving his sons to and from elementary school. It was during that drive, he says, that inspired him to improve his community by picking up the trash he saw along the route.
He made a goal of picking up a little bit of trash each day.
“I told myself, ‘I can’t not see this anymore,’” he said. “You just get so desensitized - but once you start seeing it, it’s everywhere. I just started to do something about it.”
On his first day, he found a 25-gallon fish tank someone had just dumped near Mallard Point Park. Another day he picked up seven tires that had washed ashore from Old Hickory Lake.
Within the last months he’s also recovered about 20 soccer balls, a soccer ball pump, and even a runner-up soccer trophy. He plans to hang an untouched painting of the Golden Gate Bridge that he found in his basement.
The majority of the trash he’s picked up, however, include beer and liquor bottles, Styrofoam cups and beer cans that date back to the 1960’s.
“The trash has been here for years,” he said.
One person stopped to give him some money to pay for trash bags. The man asked why Pierson was even bothering if he knew people would continue to litter and discard unwanted items.
“We just love living here – everybody has been so warm and welcoming - and I just wanted to do something,” he said. “I can’t ask for something from the community if I haven’t given something first.”
He’s following what he calls the “Field of Dreams” model.
“I figure if I keep picking up, people will see me doing something good and they’ll eventually come,” he said. “If everybody came out, we’d have this whole city cleaned up in a couple of days.”
Hendersonville resident James Stevenson saw one of Pierson’s Facebook posts and sent him a direct message. The next day the two were picking up trash and swapping life stories.
“He told me his story about being laid off during Covid. We share that same experience,” said Stevenson, who works in the restaurant industry. “I figure it’s better to do positive things instead of sitting around and doing nothing. There’s just something therapeutic about it.”
The two collected enough trash to fill seven large bags in just a couple of hours. Pierson says he was only able to collect half that amount by himself.
“I would love to have more people come out,” he said. “We could pick up a larger area.”
Stevenson said he’ll help out again when the weather is a little warmer.
Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary has also offered to help.
When a local business owner alerted Clary to Pierson’s social media posts, Clary reached out. The two had planned to pick up litter together last week before a winter storm roared through.
“He told me to feel free to suggest other places that needed cleaning up,” said Clary.
The mayor said there was no shortage of places considering picking up litter is not high right now on the city’s priority list. It also doesn’t appear to be a priority for the state either, he added – suggesting clean up efforts along state roads like New Shackle Island Road and Vietnam Veterans Boulevard.
Clary said he hopes Pierson’s efforts will inspire others. It’s been several years, he noted, since someone has initiated a citywide clean up.
“I think what he’s doing is exceptional,” said the mayor. “And I’m appreciative of what he’s doing for the city.”