Uniting over ‘a great love’ for Green River: 20th annual cleanup takes place this weekend

  • David Boles, pictured picking up a vacant lot on Wells Street in Greenfield in 2021, started the Green River Cleanup 20 years ago. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • A sign to stop trash before it starts at the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area during the 23rd annual Source to Sea Cleanup in 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Volunteers Joshua Sonntag, left, and Bill Ashley work to remove trash from the banks of the Green River as part of the 23rd annual Source to Sea Cleanup in 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Volunteers from PV Squared, from left, Aric Lively Savage, Toby Moran and Craig Lakas work to remove sections of an old collapsed house as part of the 23rd annual Source to Sea Cleanup in 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/18/2023 4:57:29 PM

David Boles considers himself fortunate.

He grew up in upstate New York’s Niagara County, which he said had some of the most polluted water in the country. But 45 years ago, when he moved to Greenfield, he marveled at the area’s water quality.

“I live on the Green River and ... I feel incredibly lucky that I have a clean body of water in front of me that my friends and family can enjoy,” Boles said.

But that good fortune, he said, comes with a feeling of obligation to keep the water as pristine as possible. It was with this in mind that he started the Green River Cleanup 20 years ago as a way to bring his community together to help maintain the health of one of its most valuable resources.

The event has since become married with the Connecticut River Conservancy’s Source to Sea Cleanup that is now in its 27th year — as well as efforts in Gill and Montague — to create a smorgasbord of environmental efforts planned for the weekend of Sept. 23. Collectively, the effort is now called the Franklin County Rivers Cleanup.

“I think the thing that I want to stress is what a community effort it is,” Boles said.

He mentioned the Green River consists of high-quality water when it comes into north Greenfield, but becomes heavily polluted by the time it discharges into the Deerfield River.

“I wonder if Greenfield can make this river alive again,” Boles said. “There’s a great love for this river here.”

There will be roughly 35 designated Franklin County Rivers Cleanup sites across Greenfield in the tributaries and the surrounding watershed. Individual schools and businesses will pitch in on Friday, Sept. 22, and the massive cleanup effort will take place the following day. Volunteers will meet at the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area on Nash’s Mill Road at 9 a.m. before branching off to various sites. Visit bit.ly/3ZddUlJ to get involved with the cleanup efforts.

“I’m really hoping that we get an extremely large crowd to have a great time,” he said.

Trash of all kinds

There is always plenty of miscellaneous trash, and volunteers have been known to find cars, couches, motorcycles, lawnmowers, propane tanks, old construction materials, asbestos, gas cans and containers of toxic oils. One time, a crate of kittens was found and Boles said each of the little felines got a forever home. He mentioned 4,000 tires have been removed from a ravine at the confluence of the Green and Deerfield rivers over the past six years.

Diana Chaplin, the Connecticut River Conservancy’s director of communications, said 126 groups signed up last year and 117 have registered so far for this weekend. She said many people tend to sign up in the two weeks before the cleanup.

“I’m really hoping that we’ll surpass last year’s number, in terms of groups,” she said, adding that there were 1,363 individual volunteers in 2022. “It’s an amazing event and it’s really for all different types of people, young and old. It’s really an amazing way for people to make an impact for their local ... environment.”

Chaplin said she has been shocked to find “all kinds of strange trash,” including a crocheted blanket, broken boat pieces, bullets, empty shotgun shells and empty nip bottles.

“Sometimes you find surprising things that can be pretty shocking,” she said.

According to the Connecticut River Conservancy’s website, 34.06 tons of trash was diverted from rivers and streams in 2022. Volunteers removed 12,399 beverage containers and 7,803 pounds of scrap metal. Anyone who finds an item (a gun, safe, cash register, etc.) that may have been used in a crime is asked to immediately report it to law enforcement.

Weather impact

Chaplin stressed, however, that not all the debris is intentional littering, as some makes its way into the river due to flooding. She said this summer’s heavy rainfall could have an impact on the types of trash found and their volume in the waterways.

People are encouraged to take it upon themselves to pick up trash they find on roadways, as this will prevent it from ever getting into a river or other body of water.

Stacey Lennard, the Connecticut River Conservancy’s events manager and the Source to Sea Cleanup coordinator, said the rain’s aftermath this summer has trash and debris flowing down the river from Vermont and New Hampshire.

“There’s a lot of mud and silt that has come in from all the tributaries as well, so water levels are still really high,” she said, adding that she hopes people are mindful of the higher water levels and stay away from muddy banks.

Planning an effective cleanup

Lennard said the cleanup is not limited to a weekend, as volunteers have been rolling up their sleeves and doing what they can all month.

“It’s been an ongoing process for ... quite a lot of people,” she mentioned.

Beth Bazler, who works as a senior land and compliance specialist for FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., explained volunteers have spent time scoping out cleanup locations in Montague, Gill, Northfield, Sunderland and Leverett “so that people are being used effectively and so that people’s time is well-spent.” She said Montague is kind enough to open its transfer station so volunteers have a place to bring the mattresses, recyclables and electronic waste they find. FirstLight later pays for this material to be removed from the transfer station.

Bazler recruits “haulers,” or people to bring debris the group finds to a dumpster donated by USA Waste and Recycling. She said a 15-yard dumpster was used last year and organizers are going with a smaller one this time around because there is less debris.

“It’s an awesome problem,” Bazler said.

Anyone who takes the time to help is encouraged to take inventory of the debris they collect and fill out a trash tally form, available at bit.ly/3LmaabI, during the cleanup and submit it within a week. The Connecticut River Conservancy will use this data to advocate for pollution solutions from lawmakers.

“That’s invaluable information,” Lennard said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.


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