Sweeping the state clean: Green Up Day is back

Mill River Union High School students clean up trash along Alfrecha Road in North Clarendon during a previous Green Up Day. This year's statewide event is Saturday. (Albert J. Marro / Staff File Photo)

It may not be an official state holiday, but you might not know it by the turnout of students, corporations, visitors and residents who will descend on town offices and other locations with bags, boxes and gloves to give the Green Mountain State a proper spring cleaning. Green Up Day has arrived once again. Gov. Phil Scott, his cabinet, and members of his administration kicked off the weekend Friday by gathering up debris along Route 2 from Middlesex to Waterbury. Some towns have been greening and cleaning for days already. "We started this at least a week ago," said Killington Green Up coordinator Deb Burke. "I encourage people to start greening-up when bags arrive at the town hall." Burke said even after 22 years as a coordinator, Killington is still flooded every year with eager volunteers who clean up the wealth of Bud Lite cans, cigarette butts, pizza boxes and tires from the sides of town roads. "We had 120 volunteers last year," Burke said. "We had Green Mountain College students from the Killington campus, second-home owners and lots of residents." The Killington-Pico Rotary Club, the Killington Womens' Club, the Killington Fire Department and EMTs also show up to lend a hand, Burke said. "We fill 400 bags full of trash every year," Burke said. "There are 44 miles of roads in Killington and they're all cleaned up by the end." In addition to fast-food bags that travelers toss out their windows en route from Woodstock Avenue, volunteers find the occasional exhaust systems from cars falling victim to Killington's winter-ravaged roads, Burke said. "We have a lot of potholes in town," Burke said. "People go over them and and the rusty systems fall off and onto the side of the road. One year, we found an entire transmission system from a head-on car crash." Though rusted-out exhaust systems aren't exactly the prize of the day, Burke said a finders-keepers policy applies to all treasure recovered. "The most interesting thing people find is money," Burke said. "A local boy picked up a $100 bill on Dean Hill Road one time. If you throw it out or lose it, it's fair game." Montpelier's Green Up Day will be well on its way Friday, when businesses often dedicate employee hours to the statewide effort, said Green Up coordinator Nate  Hausman. "Volunteers for this day number in the hundreds," Hausman said. "It's a busy, busy day." Green Up Day is also going high-tech this year: a new app that was piloted last year will enable volunteers to access an online mapping tool, using URL and QR code to identify cleaning routes on their smartphones to cover more ground while keeping in touch with coordinators. Montpelier may be picking up, but residents are also putting down: new trees will be planted in parks around the city, and an annual art installation is slated to reclaim its rightful place over the north branch river. "The whole day is about beautifying the city," Hausman said. The town of Brandon is expanding its efforts this year by offering a second location where volunteers can grab their Green Up bags and get to picking. "We're meeting in the Green Block across from the town offices from 8 a.m.-10 a.m., and at the Neshobe School from 8:30-9:30 a.m.," said coordinator James Leary. Leary also said anyone with a pickup truck is encouraged to meet at 10 a.m. at the Green Block to receive assignments for roadside pick-up. Green Up Day doesn't stop Saturday, at least not in Brandon: Leary said the transfer station will still be accepting Green-Up Day bags for another two weeks if participants wish to continue their garbage harvest. To the south, Windham County has a slew of offerings planned for the ecological holiday. Volunteers can refuel on free lemonade provided by Whetstone Station, as well as coffee and donuts provided at the four Green-Up stations at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the West Brattleboro Fire Department, Brattleboro Subaru, and at the corner of Elm and Elliot streetS downtown, said coordinator Robin Rieske. "People are already starting," Rieske said. "It's almost like you can see spring happening when you start to see the bags on the sides of the road." Brattleboro's Green Up Day collects the usual gallons of cigarette butts and mail debris, but Rieske said pieces of peoples' lives are also left behind on the sides of the road and in the woods, where she said those without a home have created makeshift shelters out of tents and tarps in lieu of four walls. "These are signs of people who are struggling," Rieske said. "They're living a challenging life. We try to encourage people to go down and clean it up to make it a better place to live. People should never feel like they have to leave their belongings behind." After a long day gathering other people's expendables, Green Up volunteers won't be expected to retire their gloves on an empty stomach, Rieske said. "Community Hope and Action in Townshend is planning a free pig roast from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. with a pig donated by the Lions Club," Rieske said. "And the Subaru dealership will be ending the day with a barbecue." Rutland City coordinator Jim O'Gorman said there will also be a celebratory barbecue following Rutland's Green Up efforts at Kinney Subaru on Route 7. And if the promise of homemade food isn't enough to draw residents outside to participate, Mount Snow is offering free season ski passes for kids in grades 6-11 if they attend two substance prevention classes with their parents and participate in Green Up Day this year through their 'Choose sNOw' program, according to their website. "We get a lot of young people who come to the table with their own bags, and we sign off on them," Rieske said. The 48th annual Green-Up Day is sponsored by 29 different organizations, including Subaru of New England, Cabot Cheese, and Rutland Regional Medical Center, and received donations from five private companies including Berkshire Bank of Pittsford, Massachusetts, and Donald P. Blake Jr. Inc. of Morrisville. The first Green Up Day, launched on April 18 in 1970, by then-governor Deane Davis, cleared 2,280 miles of interstate and 6,225 miles of town roads. But at the tender age of nine, the movement was losing steam: participation had dwindled to a mere 1,000 volunteers statewide, so a coalition to protect the movement was formed  and named Vermont Green Up Inc. Today, over 22,000 volunteers come out annually from throughout the state to participate, according to the Green Up Day website, and those looking to donate any amount of money to the cause can do so on their tax returns.  

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