The trash mule: Mother/daughter duo in Hailey use donkey to clean up roads

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“Don’t be an a$$, don’t litter,” says the sign attached to the side of Smokey, a 1-year-old burrow/donkey owned by the Runswick family. For the last few weeks, 13-year-old Skylar and her mother, Deida, have been taking this family pet out in their surrounding neighborhoods in Hailey to help pick up trash on the side of the road.

“I was on a run the other day near where we live on Buttercup Road and noticed all the trash,” said Deida. “ Skylar has always been my little environmentalist, she’s been picking up trash ever since she was little.”

Home-schooled Skylar lives in quite a menagerie of animals at home — their 25 pets include a miniature horse, two donkeys, numerous chickens, ducks, lizards, cats, and of course, Smokey. Skylar’s parents, Deida and dad Duane, are always looking for exciting projects to keep the homeschooler entertained and training Smokey for backpacking season this summer seemed like a perfect way to combine Skylar’s love of the environment and animals.

“My mom and I both love picking up trash,” Skylar said. “My mom one day had the idea to bring out donkey Smokey on a trash pick up.”

For their first trip out, the duo tackled half of Buttercup Road, a road roughly a mile and a half that runs adjacent to Highway 75. They put the trashbags on either side of Smokey’s sawbuck which typically holds packs and led him up and down the street picking up trash, letting him get accustomed to loud noises, cars, and people.

The reaction has been very positive with people often stopping to thank the trio and wanting to get involved; Skylar’s friend Dillen Price even came out on the second trip.

“Our friends think it’s pretty cool!” Skylar said.

The trash

On their first outing, Skylar and Deida covered half of Buttercup (about ¾ of a mile) in just over an hour and filled two bags of trash; on the second outing they covered the other half and filled three more bags. They found the usual assortment of roadside trash: alcohol bottles, pipes, cigar wrappers, barbed wire ... but also something unique.

“We actually found rupees, Indian money on the side of the road,” Skylar said. “Of course, it only exchanged for about $1.15 USD but it was pretty strange to see Indian money laying around. I think we found about 80 rupees.”

Skylar growing up

While picking up trash may not sound like a fun day out for a 13 year old, Skylar has always loved the environment and animals, often doing projects and volunteering in ways that combine her love of both.

“Even when she was just 5, she had her first hot cocoa stand that she used to raise money for the local animal shelter or bird sanctuary,” Deida said.

The family has been visiting other family in Santa Barbara for Skylar’s entire life.

Starting at the age of 3, Skylar began volunteering for a bird sanctuary there and even raised $300 for it in April through a cookie drive.

“I don’t know why I’ve always loved doing this kind of stuff,” Skylar said. “Maybe it’s because I was born in such a place surrounded by nature that I grew to love it so much and I have lots of pets so I think over time I started to want to do more with what I’ve been around. I think maybe one day I’d love to do something with this, either with animals or nature or both. I love doing all these things like trash pickups and donating and it’s kind of a passion.”

Going forward

Deida and Skylar hope to continue to pick up trash in various neighborhoods, slowly tackling all the trash in Hailey. They plan to do Indian Creek next, a neighborhood located off of Buttercup Road, and perhaps other areas that aren’t on the Adopt-A-Highway program.

“We can’t wait for our next run with it,” Skylar said.

Smokey has been getting better and better on each trip, getting used to his equipment, packing weight and getting accustomed to noises. “He used to be very scared of people and he’s really grown a lot to be trustful and loving,” Skylar said. “I think he’s doing a great job and this summer, he’ll probably be ready for camping and backpacking.”