Local man cleans the streets, a little litter at a time on the North Fork

Peter Stahl is a one-man anti-litter operation. 

For the past 20 years, the Baiting Hollow retiree, now 72, has been walking about 10 miles a day. His current routes start at Sound Avenue from Schmitt’s Farm going west to Fresh Pond Avenue, Edwards Avenue from Sound Avenue to Riley, followed by Osborn Avenue from the Riverhead Ciderhouse to Youngs Avenue. He spends between two and eight hours a week picking up litter, saying it’s grown into a hobby of his. 

“It’s a zen thing,” Mr. Stahl said. “The more you throw out of your car window, the more I pick up and I feel better about myself.” 

His wife is fine with it as long as he doesn’t get hit by a truck — she said he needed something to do when he retired.

Mr. Stahl’s day starts around 10 a.m. and he often picks up trash until noon. Equipped with his picker, gloves and bags, he’s doing his part to make the community litter-free. Mr. Stahl began his crusade against litter in 1995, when he was living in Northport. Then he retired, moved east in 2018 and saw how much litter there was on local roads.

“I have self-ownership of about eight miles that I clean all the time,” he said. “Osborn Avenue gets a lot of garbage because people are going to the recycling center. It could be that stuff is blowing off the trucks that are going there.” 

Mr. Stahl chuckled as he shared two litter-picking adventures. “I was picking up trash near the Boy Scout camp [in Baiting Hollow] and a truck stopped. I was thinking, ‘Oh, what did I do?’ But he was a guy from Riverhead Building Supply and he handed me a lime green vest. He said, ‘I see you doing this all the time and this will protect you.’ ”

Another day, someone called the police on him when he was near Fresh Pond Avenue because they thought he was dumping garbage by putting his bags on the side of the road. “The cops said, ‘Is that your red Subaru? We thought you were illegally dumping.’ I said, ‘no, no, no!’ and then they thanked me for my work,” he recalled.

Mr. Stahl comes across all kinds of trash. On Osborn, it’s often insulation, building materials, asphalt shingles and plastic wrap. But on other roads, it’s a lot of food wrappers and half-used water bottles — sometimes even full, unopened water bottles. “The best thing I found was an Esso gasoline road map! It’s copyrighted from 1949 and it’s hysterical to look at because the Main Road is not on the map — neither is the [Long Island] Expressway.”

Mr. Stahl says he’ll continue doing this as long as he can walk. His advice for people in our community: “Don’t be embarrassed to pick up garbage. I see other people picking up trash. Take pride in your town. People honk at me all the time and say thanks!” 

If you see Mr. Stahl on the road, he said he’d like if it you stopped and honked.