Readers consider litter, a vacant school, old gas stations and some main streets the region's top eyesores.
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Marvin Fair goes out running, the potato chip bags and fast-food wrappers are omnipresent.
When he takes to the highway, the empty bottles and plastic bags are there, too.
"The biggest eyesore and the one everybody traveling around the area can see is LITTER!!!!! It's everywhere!!!," Fair wrote.
Other Vindicator readers concur.
Litter, particularly along Interstate 680, is the top eyesore they want to see cleaned up and kept that way. The highway turned up nine times among letters and e-mails readers sent, the most of any location.
People have no respect or sense of personal responsibility, said Fair, 41, of Beaver Township. All the cans, bottles and bags drive him crazy.
"Trash is a big problem," he said. "There's trash cans virtually everywhere. Why throw it out on the ground? How would you like it if someone threw it on your property?"
Fair isn't upset with the Ohio Department of Transportation, the agency in charge of the highway. People who create the constant need to clean it up bug him.
"If people wouldn't throw it, you wouldn't have to do that," he said.
ODOT constantly cleans roadsides, a spokesman said. The agency also picks up trash before the usual three grass cuttings it makes before Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Grass is cut more often if more rain than usual causes faster growth.
Littering, and to a lesser degree the dumping of larger objects, turned up 15 times in the reader survey.
On Shady Run Road near Inverness Avenue and Midlothian Boulevard in Youngstown, for example, beer cans, cups, broken bottles and plastic bags defile a spot near Pemberton Park.
It's a similar scene on Republic Avenue at Albert Street in Youngstown.
Barbara Pennington has lived in the neighborhood 40 of her 53 years. Ten to 12 years ago when the nearby industries left, the area's look turned bad, she said.
Pennington becomes sad every time she drives down the street and sees trash after neighbors have cleaned it up, as often as once a month. Despite their efforts, the look reflects badly on the people who live there, she said.
"If you drive up the street, you can see people care -- if you can get past it." Pennington said. "It dissipates up the street. It's not in our yards."
Washington School: The area's next major eyesore can be deceiving from a distance. Trees along Portland Avenue on the West Side in front of the old Washington School look nice, said Laura Damko.
"Everything else looks horrific," she said, one of a half-dozen readers who mentioned the long-vacant school.
Twenty years after it closed, virtually all the windows are broken. Pigeons roost on the sills as shredded yellow window shades blow out. Trash below swirls in the parking lot. Branches sprout from the roof. Graffiti covers much of the brick.
A dozen cars a minute pass this spot, next to a ramp for I-680. Damko detours out-of town visitors to avoid the highway and thus the old school.
There is good news: The city recently began the process to remove the school's asbestos, a prelude to demolition, though a similar move in 1998 never materialized. The city has been talking with the board of education for several years about tearing down old schools.
When Washington finally comes down, there is one volunteer to help.
"I'd physically go down there, if I could," Damko said.
Out of gas: Abandoned gas stations are another main annoyance for readers. Boardman features two of them, among five that readers nominated.
The sign reads 94.9 cents per gallon for regular gas, demonstrating just how long the old Boardman Gas and Food Mart has been closed. An explosion and fire that knocked a couple of walls off the foundation closed the store at busy Southern Boulevard at Indianola Road in October 1998.
Scorch marks frame the boards still covering a couple of windows, plastic wrapping holding together the handles and six idled pumps is unraveling and weeds are growing up the pole to the sign.
At U.S. Route 224 and Glenwood Avenue, the abandoned spot is less demonstrative, but no more pleasant. Yellow cords section off the corner of gravel and weeds. A boarded-up set of restrooms sits next to an abandoned carwash.
Finally, it's back to long stretches of public space.
Targeted areas: Several readers complained about the main arteries into and out of their communities, most connecting Youngstown with surrounding cities or townships.
Belmont, Wick, Wilson and Mahoning avenues, McGuffey Road and Market Street all cropped up.
A section of Mahoning Avenue in Austintown drew the attention of four writers. Among them were Norma and Dick McBride of North Beverly Avenue.
The couple have been married 38 years and have seen the township change plenty. Most of that change has been for the better, but not for several significant properties along Mahoning Avenue, they say.
Between Meridian Road and just past Raccoon Road are the remnants of Century 21 Paints, the aging Japanese Sauna and neighboring Budapest bar buildings, the dilapidated former Schiavone's grocery and bar, and vacant Country Gardens nursery, all begging for cleanup, Norma said.
"It makes me sad. Then I get angry at whoever is responsible," she said. "It's a lack of respect for your community."
Weeds crawl up the lattice and fences of the six-acre Country Gardens. Trash gets caught in the fence. Paint is peeling or wearing off the sauna's brick, and its sign has missing sections at each end.
The bar's brown metal sign is tipping over. Roofing shingles piled waist-high litter the old Century 21 grounds, almost three years after a major fire there.
Schiavone's is the hardest to take for the McBrides. They, like many others, shopped there when it was a grocery and stopped for a drink when there was a neighborhood bar.
Mismatched boards recently replaced a blue tarp that was blowing through a gaping hole in front. Steel supports are showing and broken brick is falling.
Wickliffe Circle, with its green grass and war memorial, is across the street. A fire station next door also is landscaped and looks like a park.
Heart of town: The pleasant settings must sit across from an eyesore, which leaves Norma shaking her head.
"It's the heart [of Austintown]. It's what gives your community pride," she said. "It's almost a mockery."
The location remains popular. A mailbox remains in the parking lot, and at least four or five cars drive up and drop off letters in just a few minutes.
The McBrides don't blame township trustees. Austintown needs home rule power, they said, though voters have defeated the issue numerous times.
If trustees ever get the power, the McBrides wouldn't mind seeing the Mahoning eyesores leveled and returned to green space -- just like Wickliffe Circle.