Vermont's waterways are often perceived as being pristine places where wildlife thrives in abundance. While this perception is largely correct-thanks to years of environmental awareness and strict regulations that support clean lakes and streams-problem areas still persist. Case in point: the Black River in the Ludlow-Springfield area. Keeping this waterway clean requires vigilance and volunteers.
Recently, a team of volunteers, known as the Black River Action team made a clean sweep of the river in Windsor County during an annual field event known as RiverSweep.
In just a few hours during operation RiverSweep, 75 enthusiastic BRAT volunteers on foot and aboard personal boats, filled a dozen shopping carts with debris hauled from the banks of the Black River in the Springfield area. Included in the debris field was a discarded trailer axle, bowling pins, bicycles, machine parts and lots more.
BRAT volunteers-who come out in force every summer for RiverSweep-include local Boy Scouts, and employees from Black River Produce. Among the green volunteers were
veteran Marita Johnson and first-timers Edwin Fransen and Brandon Greene.
Of special note joining this year's cleanup were employees of the produce company were especially eager to help with RiverSweep since the firm was vandalized Aug. 8-environmental criminals were behind the release of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel into the Black River.
Employing a battered aluminum canoe as a makeshift trash barge, volunteers paddled their kayaks or waded downstream from North Springfield to a boom installed to capture the floating diesel fuel last month. The team collected so much trash and metal debris that they had to deposit the junk at multiple locations for pickup.
Volunteers in the recent RiverSweep effort included Cub Scout Pack 258 and Boy Scout Troop 252 among others.
During the day, BRAT team members continued to haul out a shocking load of debris discarded by irresponsible Vermonters: rusting shopping carts, a hubcap, a pair of pillows, nearly 200 pounds of broken plaster molds, a stop sign and a street sign for Maple Street, two partial bicycles, an entire intact bike.
The river's most troublesome debris field ranged from Riverside Middle School and the Plaza, along the Toonerville Trail bike path and Hoyt's Landing-including Harold Grout's Welcome Park, to behind the community center on Main Street.
A trio of BRATs working in Ludlow retrieved a variety of items; this section requires more work and a spring 2011 mini-sweep is already in the works.
This summer marks the tenth anniversary of BRAT, the brainchild of Springfield resident Kelly Stettner.
According to BRAT's own publicity, Stettner "was crossing a bridge in Springfield, looked over the rail to see what would be lurking in the water below; instead of fish and turtles, she saw shopping carts and tires. 'That's terrible!'... Somebody really ought to do something about that. Stettner's husband John replied, 'Well, you're somebody.' From a three-person cleanup crew that first year to more than 75 volunteers up and down the watershed just a decade later, Stettner continues to be amazed at the support RiverSweep receives every year."
And BRAT volunteers aren't just individuals who care about the environment. Of course, Black River Produce contributed a cleanup crew, but other businesses care and got involved, too-Vermont Artisan Coffee and Tea, Young's Furniture and Appliance, Wicked Good Pizza, North Fork Bagels, MadHouse Munchies, Shaw's of Springfield. Shaw's of Springfield and Ludlow, Clear Away Rubbish and Removal, and McDonald's Restaurant also contributed in the cleanup in some way, large or small.
The Black River is a valuable resource in Windsor County and BRAT volunteers are vital link in the chain to keep Vermont green not just during operation RiverSweep but every day of the year.
Check It Out: If you can't help RiverSweep and the Black River Action Team directly as a volunteer, your donation will go a long way. Contributions may be mailed directly to the non-profit BRAT at 45 Coolidge Rd., Springfield Vt. 05156 or (for tax-deductible purposes) made out to and mailed to the Connecticut River Watershed Council (with 'BRAT' in the memo), 15 Bank Row, Greenfield, Mass. 01301. To learn more, visit BRAT's website: www.BlackRiverActionTeam.org or call founder Kelly Stettner at 802-885-1533.