BARROWS -- Mandy Copa was only 9 years old when she became involved in local government.
She was too nervous to approach the Crow Wing Township Board herself, so she took her petition -- for the township to allow her and her friends to use the town hall for activities on Saturdays -- and placed the list of signatures underneath a rock outside the town hall entrance in Barrows.
Now 15, Copa is working to clean up her community, one junked car at a time.
On Saturday, Copa and a group of other volunteers the teen recruited, towed 20 junked cars to the former Barrows School site, paying the donors $25 for each old car or truck. The vehicles will be towed from there and crushed.
The effort was Copa's first step to get her neighbors to clean up their yards. She is president of the newly formed Barrows Area Resident Association. The project was funded by a $1,000 grant from Youth As Resources, a youth program Copa is active with, and with $1,000 from the Crow Wing Township Board.
"I think she is the most civic-minded kid I've met in my life," said Scott Pakarian, chair of the Crow Wing County Township Board. "This community has never had someone like Mandy. She's been coming to our board meetings for years. She's doing this and it's just phenomenal. Some day I suspect we'll have to address her as Gov. Copa."
Old junked and abandoned cars are a common site in Barrows, the small unincorporated former mining community south of Brainerd. Former Crow Wing Township clerk Don Crust, who is also involved with the Barrows clean-up effort, said one day he counted more than 200 junked cars within a four-square block in Barrows.
Some property owners have as many as 20 old cars and car bodies in their yards, said Pakarian.
Pakarian said the junked cars scattered throughout Barrows and the rest of the township have been an ongoing issue for the township board. The problem was the board has no authority to force residents to get rid of their old cars and trucks. In his five years on the board, he said they were able to remove one old car from a property because it was dumped in the road right of way.
And 15-year-old Mandy Copa was able to get rid of 20 of the vehicles Saturday.
"I think sometimes in our small communities we don't celebrate our successes, and this is a success," Dewey Tautges, Crow Wing County commissioner, said Saturday at a community event held at the Crow Wing Township Hall to recognize the Barrows clean-up project.
Copa said when she would get rides home from school from her friends and their parents, they would comment on how her neighborhood looked, particularly about the odd assortment of old cars.
"People in town would tell me how junky it is out here," Copa explained.
Copa said Crust and Judy Kidder from Youth As Resources helped her map out a plan in order to clean up Barrows. She and her group of teens decided to start with the junked cars. They decided to offer people $25 for each car. The group will receive $10 in return for the metal.
"We figured people wouldn't give us their cars unless we gave them something in return," said Copa.
Copa figures it's a start. Her next goal is to raise money and create a community park at the site of the former Barrows School.
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