Residents opt for eco-friendly exercise by collecting litter during walks

  • The bags from a Green Clean Athol litter pick-up in November 2019. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Green Clean Athol co-founder Heidi Strickland after a recent litter pickup walk. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Northfield resident Shirley Keech picks up litter on Hinsdale Road during a recent walk. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2020 4:24:27 PM

While many Franklin County and North Quabbin residents are breaking up their days spent at home during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking a walk, some have added extra purpose to these treks by picking up litter as they go.

While social distancing rules are in effect, people can still go outside to walk, run or ride bicycles, but are advised to stay at least 6 feet away from other individuals. If these rules are followed, experts say spending time outdoors can be beneficial for mental and physical well-being, and picking up litter can be a great solo activity for those looking to make their walks feel more purposeful.

“Its a great opportunity, I think,” said Heidi Strickland.

Strickland, along with Ellen Evans, co-founded Green Clean Athol. Having also led the push to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam in Athol, Strickland said she decided to take action and form the group about a year ago after complaints about the amount of litter in town continued to pile up on Facebook.

“I care about people, but I also really care about the environment,” Strickland said.

The first community cleaning event was held in late April of last year. Strickland said it was a great success, drawing about 100 people. The cleaning events continued semi-regularly, until the COVID-19 pandemic began, at which time residents were encouraged to stop gathering in groups.

“Lo and behold, the virus is keeping us from doing that again,” Strickland said. “But the virus doesn’t keep us from going outdoors, so I suggested people go out and clean their neighborhoods.”

Many residents have taken her up on this suggestion and are picking up trash as they walk by themselves or with their families. Strickland said she is pleased with the number of people who are getting fresh air and cleaning up their community while also practicing social distancing.

Likewise, in Northfield, resident Shirley Keech is gathering litter from her own neighborhood. She said she picked up two trash bags’ worth just last week.

“This is something we do all the time,” Keech said. “We’re just going out a little more often now.”

She said others have been inspired to get out and clean up trash near their homes, too. Some people have even shared what streets have been patroled for litter on a townwide email list, with Keech noting that Hobo Falls is a future destination.

In the last two weeks, Green Clean Athol members Bonnie and Al Benjamin said they have picked up roughly 180 pounds of trash and recyclables. Last week they had a 100-pound haul, and this Monday they collected 80 pounds in Athol.

While they are not allowed to meet in large groups, pairs of people are collecting trash when they have time. Bonnie Benjamin said six different people split up and went to separate parts of town to pick up trash last week.

“It’s a way we can be out doing good things in our community while still being safe,” Bonnie Benjamin said. “Of course, it looks so much better when we’re done. ... We need to learn to take care of what we share together.”

The Green Clean Athol members advise it’s important to wear protective gear, such as rubber gloves, when handling trash. Members typically carry trash bags with them, as well as hand sanitizer.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.


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