Hard Work, Real Fun, True Impact

By Mary Link

Over the course of two days, thousands of people were expected to remove 45 tons of trash from the Connecticut River and her tributaries from Source to Sea. As the new Membership Builder at the Connecticut River Watershed Council, it was my first Source to Sea Cleanup. I was wowed by the magnitude of the event, the enormous impact, and how much fun it was.

UMass Rowers Put In Their Oars 
The UMass Women’s Rowing Team came out for the Source to Sea Cleanup, as they have for several years. Their skilled paddling quickly carried about 20 women by rowing barge out to Elwell Island. They did a great job of cleaning up both Elwell Island and the Northampton shore of the Connecticut River below the Coolidge Bridge. Piles of trash grew as they saved our precious waterway from plastic bags, tiki torches, rusty metal, broken glass, tires, an abandoned campsite, and other debris.  Many hands made light work. The team clearly had a good time while making a difference. 

Later, the Men’s Rowing Team joined the effort, helping to demolish an abandoned derelict dock that we hauled to shore. That old dock didn’t stand a chance in the face of so many enthusiastic strong rowers beating, bashing, prying and swinging an ice axe to tear it apart.  It was heartening to see the wonderful UMass team spirit engaged to help clean up the river they love to row on.    

Our River is Tired of TIRES
In Greenfield, I learned about tires.  Andrea Donlon, CRWC’s River Steward for Massachusetts, was examining a pile of about 60 tires that had been pulled from the Green River. As she did this, Andrea documented the manufacture dates stamped on the tires.  Every year our Source to Sea Cleanup groups pull hundreds of tires out of the watershed. Some tires are old, but many are pretty recent. Why do tires wind up in our rivers? There is a fee for disposing of tires and some people illegally throw used tires over the bank. 

How do we prevent tires from getting there in the first place? Tire stewardship legislation has been proposed that would allow consumers to pay up front for proper disposal when buying tires. Unfortunately, tire companies are opposed to this, claiming that tires found in cleanups are all old, and new tires are disposed of properly. 

In Andrea’s pile, at least half of the tires were manufactured in the last 15 years.  We are pulling truck-loads of tires out of river banks to clean up the past, and documenting them to encourage legislation that will help keep the rivers cleaner for the future. 

Getting Dirty for Our Rivers 
A dozen high school students in mud-splattered green T-shirts were enthusiastically sorting trash into piles. I was impressed by how much trash this diverse crew of teen volunteers had pulled out of the Connecticut River in an hour, and by their pride of accomplishment. 

As we walked back to the school, a teacher gushed about how much she loves this event. “Usually you don’t know the impact your lessons have on students,” she said.  “But today it is instantly apparent! As city kids, not used to scrambling around in the woods, they don’t want to get dirty. But once they start pulling trash out of the river, they are hooked and want to get it all out of there so the river will be clean. They are learning that they can make a difference. I am excited about the connections they are making, too.”

The teacher noted that as the pile of plastic bags they pulled out of the mud got bigger and bigger, one student remarked, “Now I understand why people want a plastic bag ban.” Others made similar remarks about banning plastic water bottles and Styrofoam trays.

Students were amazed to learn the magnitude of the effort they were part of –volunteers of all ages in four states (NH, VT, MA, CT) cleaning the entire length of the Connecticut River and its watershed. This huge event is just one of the activities coordinated by the Connecticut River Watershed Council that helps keep our rivers cleaner and healthier for wildlife and our recreational enjoyment.

Get involved by signing up to volunteer or learn more at ctriver.org.

To donate to Connecticut River Watershed Council, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 104777 on your paper pledge form.