On September 19th, a sunny, early fall Saturday, six people put in their canoes at an access point along the Missisquoi River in East Berkshire, VT. As soon as their canoes hit the water, the six of them began collecting a motley assortment of “goods” from the river—corroded cans, pieces of steel pipe, and bits of technicolor plastic. No, these paddlers were not collecting raw material for a found art sculpture. They, along with hundreds of other volunteers throughout the state, were participating in Vermont’s River Cleanup month.
In 2014, the Vermont legislature designated September as “River Cleanup Month” thanks to the work of the Vermont Outdoor Guides Association and many partners. Watersheds United Vermont (WUV), a network of over 30 watershed groups around Vermont, collaborated with the Connecticut River Watershed Council and American Rivers to coordinate cleanups throughout the state for 2015.
Ann Ingerson of WUV said, “Vermonters have organized river cleanups for a long-time, but we’ve never coordinated at the state-wide level.” According to Ann Smith, executive director of the Friends of the Winooski River, the River Cleanup Month, “allowed more cleanups to take place statewide, and inspired volunteers to feel that they were a part of something bigger.”
In the Vermont can-do spirit, watershed associations, student groups, soccer teams, businesses and concerned citizens worked together to host 25 cleanups this September and many more earlier in the summer. Nearly 400 volunteers donated 1,870 hours and hauled a total of 16,000 pounds of trash from rivers and shore lands. Three leaders of river cleanups won $100 gift cards generously donated by Orvis – Mary Pat Goulding of Memphremagog Watershed Association, Lew Apgar of the Passumpsic Riverfront Revitalization group, and James Bentley from St. Johnsbury Academy.
Michelle Graziosi, an ECO AmeriCorps member, who helped clean up a scenic section of the North Branch of the Winooski with the Vermont River Conservancy, said that after a few hours of work, “…just seeing the whole trailer filled with tires and couches that were going to be properly disposed at the dump instead of lying around at the beautiful site by the river was a good feeling.”