The 8-foot letters filled with trash and spelling out “#YARDWORK” in the grassy area across from Cajun Field are not only a piece of artwork but also a statement to get people thinking about the trash clogging the city’s streets each day.

About 1,000 University of Louisiana at Lafayette students participated in The Big Event’s city cleanup on Saturday, walking the streets from Rouses Supermarket on Bertrand Drive to UL-Lafayette’s campus to the downtown streets picking up anything they considered trash.

“It’s a testament to how much our community is littering our streets, and where the trash is really going is to the river,” said Gretchen Vanicor, director of sustainability at UL-Lafayette.

She said filling up the letters across from Cajun Field with the trash that students collected is “going to be incredible and sad at the same time” but is a way to raise public awareness about the problem.

“We are trying to do it in a way that’s really obvious but slightly artistic in a weird way, which is what Lafayette is,” Vanicor said.

Three UL-Lafayette students collaborated with graphic artist Rachel Hatley, who began what is called The Litter Letter Project and already has brought it to five states: Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

The students who worked with Hatley were Sam Riehl, a freshman in industrial design and the youngest blacksmith in Louisiana; Ben Magallon, an architectural graduate student; and Nick Arcuri, an architectural graduate student. The group spent about 70 hours designing and constructing the letters from iron rods and chicken wire.

“Project Frontyard isn’t conceptual,” Riehl said. “This is your front yard. You paid for it, and you are literally throwing trash into what is yours, and it doesn’t make any sense. Look how much trash won’t be on the road. I just love the concept of this project because you are just putting it in everyone’s face. I mean, what are you going to do about it?”

Magallon said he learned from a previous project he worked on that the amount of trash filling the Vermilion River each year is the equivalent to filling up four school buses.

“A lot of people don’t realize any trash you throw out onto the street ends up washing into the drainage, which washes into the coulees, which washes into the Vermilion,” Magallon said “It is all connected.”

Not all the students participating in The Big Event were focusing on litter. Some students painted areas in need of retouching and planted trees on campus.

“Having a university here can be a nuisance with traffic and all this stuff, so I feel like it’s an awesome way to give back to the community and the city that takes such good care of us,” said Peter Newton, a junior advertising major who spent his day painting and touching up areas around campus.

Other students covered areas outside campus and downtown. Some students spent time cleaning up schools, including Evangeline Elementary.

A group of Big Event students teamed up with ReCover Acadiana’s Community ReLeaf project to help plant trees in parks, like Graham Brown Memorial Park on Pont des Mouton Road.

“We are ‘Happiest City’ and all these great things,” Vanicor said. “Lafayette needs to reflect that visually. This is litter that’s coming off of our streets. This is something we have to take responsibility for not just cleaning it but from stopping it all together.

He added, “We can’t rely on just the government to take care of the problem. This is the community’s problem, and we have to take care of it together.”