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Roadside Refuse: A Trashy Sign of Spring

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Trash takes over some roadways, such as this pile of tires, child's toys and other trash on Dog River Road recently. Photo by Carla Occaso
It is that time of year: Snow is finally receding, with rain and warm temperatures accelerating its departure. Trash and dog droppings — until recently buried in layers of snow — are now visible along Vermont’s roads and paths.

A reader recently called The Bridge with a complaint about an acutely bad case of littering along Dog River Road. The road, largely uninhabited between Morse Auto on Vermont Route 12 and the municipal wastewater treatment plant, appears to be a site for illegal dumping at several spots. Stacks of tires, broken glass, beer bottles, soda cans, plastic drink cups, bags of trash, papers, a broken baby stroller, and a child’s plastic go-cart are among the detritus observed by The Bridge.

“I can’t believe it,” Montpelier resident Dave Keller said by phone. “There’s plastic baby strollers, TVs, big bags of garbage that have been ripped open and strewn everywhere.” Keller, who lives on Berlin Street, says he likes to walk that road while his car is being serviced at Morse Auto. He describes how you can see the river and the distance and hear the birds. Walking along that road is usually a positive experience. This year, however, the condition of the roadside has caused him to feel depressed and have trouble keeping a positive attitude. “This is not Vermont to me,” he said. “There is just a ton of trash.”

Trash is strewn along Dog River Road in Berlin/Montpelier recently. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Fortunately, Vermont has a special day created just for this unpleasant sign of spring: Green Up Day, which this year is scheduled for May 7. On this day many Vermonters “celebrate” spring by putting on thick gloves, grabbing a few bright green bags distributed by their town, and cleaning up an adopted stretch of road.

Each town has someone to contact about where to get bags and what to do with the trash afterward. Some towns ask volunteers to leave the bags of trash on the side of the road, while others ask people to bring them to a dump, transfer station, or other spot. Each coordinator can be found by county by clicking on this link: Green Up Day Coordinators.

According to Chris Racanelli, East Montpelier Green Up Vermont coordinator since 2012, several points in town are known to be trash hotspots, including Muddy Brook Road, Towne Hill Road, Clark Road, and Horn of the Moon Road close to the Wrightsville dam. Additionally, U.S. Route 2 and Vermont Route 14 tend to be repositories for garbage — but state employees — not volunteers — take care of state highways. Racanelli opined that “there is more litter this year (than last year). Last year, we picked 3,400 pounds of trash and 131 tires.”

A broken stroller, a tire — with rim — and other miscellaneous trash are emerging on Dog River Road. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Racanelli also suggests Green Up Day volunteers dress in brightly colored clothes, and wear long pants, gloves, and boots. Additionally, people should use insect repellent “before heading out the door, and always check for ticks.” Racanelli suggests Green Uppers behave in a cautious manner on the road, face oncoming traffic, and not go down embankments or into unsafe areas. Also, they should avoid picking up hazardous waste such as needles and dead animals.

Racanelli has many memories over the years while acting as an active Green Up Day participant. 

“Green Up is a collective effort of many people who come together on this one day, year after year, giving of themselves to their community without bringing attention to their actions. East Montpelier residents, former coordinators, volunteers — all taking pride as they do their part to keep our town and state clean. It is the true spirit of giving without much asking. This has kept me coming back each year,” he said.

Over in Middlesex, Green Up Vermont co-coordinator Jon Udis says he thinks Green Up Day is a great way to contribute to your community. It is an activity that can be done by people of all ages from the young to old. 

Udis said the biggest trash hotspot in Middlesex is at the I-89 ramp and at the commuter parking lot on U.S. Route 2. Luckily, a lot of folks turn up to clean these areas. He suggests wearing gloves when greening up and being cautious around toxic materials, broken glass, and needles. He also suggests wearing bright clothes so you are visible to motorists. And don’t forget to check for ticks.

Jamie Moorby, Green Up Vermont coordinator for Calais said the worst areas are typically spots with few houses and a bank to throw stuff over — especially Pekin Brook Road near Vermont Route 14. Other spots in need of attention include Kent Hill Road and Worcester Road. Moorby says residents are encouraged to pick up trash all month and even all year around.

“One of my favorite things about Green Up Day is seeing kids participating. I’ve been greening up since I moved to Calais in second grade, and seeing youths out in droves always brings back fond childhood memories,” Moorby said.

Green Up Day was launched on April 18, 1970 by Republican Governor Deane C. Davis. The event followed a suggestion to Davis by Burlington Free Press reporter Robert Babcock in 1969, according to greenupvt.org. During that first Green Up Day, 70,000 volunteers cleaned up nearly 100% of the roads. The interstate highways were closed from 9 a.m. to noon so volunteers could pick up trash. Schools bused in kids from all over to lend a hand. The governor flew all around the state in a helicopter on that day to land on the highways and praise volunteers. To this day, many school children and families actively participate in Green Up Day.

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