Don Mapes is a man who likes to stay busy. Over his 38-year career at the Emmet County Department of Public Works, this has not been a problem—especially the 28 years he has been their Superintendent. Today is a case in point, before an 8:30 a.m. meeting to be interviewed for this article, he had already reshuffled employees to cover for a sick truck driver, travelled to Gaylord to pick up a truck from a repair garage, stopped at Burt Lake State Park on the way back to pick up a recycling drop-site bin, made a second run to Burt Lake State Park to finish picking up their bins for the season, resolved some payroll questions, and responded to the morning’s emails and phone calls.
Mapes started with the Department of Public Works (DPW) in July of 1980 as a Transfer Station Attendant and Driver. The County’s Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center, where the Solid Waste Transfer Station is located, is now a sprawling complex which receives, processes, and markets materials for recycling, as well as accepting garbage for transfer to a landfill south of Onaway. In 1980 it was a newly opened facility with just the Solid Waste Transfer Station. For his first 10 years, Mapes assisted customers in the Station drive-through and drove the trucks loaded with garbage to a private landfill south of Charlevoix.
In 1990, all that changed, as the county began implementing a five-year plan to offer recycling and household hazardous waste programs. The county hired Elisa Seltzer, formerly of Recycle Ann Arbor, as Public Works Director and voters passed a millage of 0.25 for two years to get the new programs off the ground. Around this same time, Mapes was promoted to DPW Superintendent, assuming management of the department’s operations. By 1992, the DPW had established a recycle processing center at the Pleasantview Road site and ten Recycling Drop-off Sites spread all over Emmet County. Recyclables poured in, with volumes nearly doubling in 1993. The race was on!
Mr. Mapes speaks of the DPWs award-winning recycling programs as having, “grown up around” him. In reality, he played key roles in nearly every development, including the hiring of dozens of employees over the years, purchases of trucks and equipment, eight building expansions, and the additions of curbside recycling services and a composting facility. “I gave input,” he said, “My favorite role is reminding everyone to look out for unintended consequences. Bad ones and good ones.” One example, on the positive side, was outgrowing facilities faster than anticipated. “We really got more response from the community than we thought we would. Everything that we built, we have outgrown it sooner than we thought. I was the one who had to make it work. But we always get by and get things done.”
“It was a real learning experience,” Mapes said of the job, “and it turned me into a real recycler.” He points to the money families can save on garbage disposal as the most compelling aspect of recycling, though he noted he doesn’t discount its environmental value.
Asked about Mapes’ career with the DPW, Director Elisa Seltzer pointed to his remarkable ability to work with all kinds of people and systems. “He has worked with everyone: our administrative team, the DPW Board, and all of the different personnel at the facility–county employees, contract workers, a sort-team of adults with developmental disabilities, and trustees from the county jail. He even received an award from Community Mental Health for being an outstanding “abilities-minded” employer. At the same time, the period of his leadership has seen constant growth in our programs and massive technological change. Don has been willing and able to take it all on.”
To honor all of his contributions to the county’s waste, composting, and recycling programs, the DPW is holding a public retirement open house for Don Mapes. The event will be held Thursday, November 8, 2018 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at the Sassy Loon Restaurant at Northern Lights Recreation Center on M-119. For those who cannot make it to the open house, they will also offer coffee and “Donuts with Don” from 10:00-11:00 a.m. at the Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center on Friday, November 16—his last day with Emmet County.
Concerning his plans for his retirement, Mapes said, “I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. But I’m not a homebody. I’ll probably go find part-time work to keep busy.” With just weeks left on the job, Mapes is as busy as ever—maybe more so—in his job at the Emmet County Department of Public Works. Seeing how late it was getting, he brought the interview to a close, saying, “I have a lot to do today, equipment-wise. There’s a trailer I need to go look at.”