Still got some cabin fever to shake off (or superfluous poundage to lose) after a long, cold, snowy, classic Northeast winter? Besides opportunities for exercise, more outdoorsy weather also means that it’s time to get out there and pitch in on a group cleanup effort in your community.
Lots of towns plan “clean sweep” events in the spring, some of them tied to Earth Day or Arbor Day in late April. But if you haven’t participated in one yet this year, your big chance is coming up this Saturday, May 9: the fourth annual Riverkeeper Sweep, which offers your choice of over 100 sites in the Hudson Valley, from New York City to Albany, that are in need of a bit of sprucing-up. More than two dozen of them are located in Almanac Weekly’s four-county readership area.
If four years sounds way too young to jibe with your memories of similar events, you’re likely recalling the decade when the annual Hudson Valley-wide litter-picking party was run by Scenic Hudson and known as the Great Hudson River Sweep. The campaign was initiated in 1998 in response to a note from a 6-year-old boy named Josh Taubes, saying, “I am writing to you because I see trash floating in the Hudson River. Is there any way you can help me?”
Scenic Hudson organized the event for ten years, then spun it off ten years later, after deciding that it had developed enough momentum to be carried forward by dozens of community waterfront groups without centralized oversight. But without a regional umbrella organization to handle the logistics and publicity, the Sweep’s grassroots momentum faltered, and eventually Riverkeeper stepped in and took charge. Nearly 2,000 volunteers took part in the 2014 Sweep, removing and recycling 31 tons of trash in 82 shoreline locations.
While the original Sweep focused primarily on the banks of the Hudson River, there were always also cleanups of other parks and public sites. And nowadays, with Riverkeeper’s data-collecting indicating that water quality is actually far worse in our estuary’s tributaries than it is in the Hudson itself, Sweep organizing is becoming more geographically diffuse. You’ll find that many of the cleanup sites listed below are located on smaller streams in the Hudson watershed, one of which may flow through your own neighborhood!
One of the most active partner organizations participating in the Sweep is the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson Estuary Program, whose Trees for Tribs initiative donates free saplings of native trees to community groups willing to plant them as part of riparian restoration projects along tributary streams. If you volunteer for one of the Trees for Tribs projects organized as part of Sweep day, you’ll be uprooting invasive vegetation or digging holes to replace them with native species instead of removing trash. It’s heavier work, but the benefits to your community will be longer-term.
But that diversity of tasks is part of the beauty of this mass event: Everyone from a pint-sized litter-picker to a kayaker to a wheelchair-bound volunteer willing to make phone calls has a niche in which he or she can contribute to the effort. In our readership area, there are Trees for Tribs planting parties planned in New Paltz and High Falls in Ulster County and Taghkanic in Columbia County. Waterborne cleanups, exploiting the ability of kayakers and canoers to access jetsam-strewn places unreachable on foot like islands or bridge abutments, are being organized on the Wallkill River, Rondout Creek, Saugerties Bay and Saugerties Marsh in Ulster and Lower Wappinger Creek and North Tivoli Bay in Dutchess.
Also trending on the Sweep front are partnerships with regional brewpubs, many of which have signed up to supply one free beer (or non-alcoholic beverage) per volunteer once the hard, messy day’s (or half-day’s) work is done. Says Riverkeeper’s manager of strategic partnerships, Dana Gulley, “Cleaning rivers and drinking beer go together so well!” You can find out which watering holes in your neck of the woods are offering the free beer promotion on the Riverkeeper website at www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/events/rvk-events/sweep2015.
That’s also where you go to register to participate in a Sweep and find out all the logistics. The event goes on rain or shine, and volunteers should show up wearing mud-appropriate footgear and bring heavy work gloves if they have them. “There’s no bad weather – just bad clothes” for a Sweep, says Arthur Cemelli, volunteer commander for both the shoreline infantry and the kayak navy for the Wallkill River cleanup, meeting at Sojourner Truth Park in New Paltz at 9 a.m. this Saturday. There’s also a link on the site to download forms supplied by American Rivers for high school and college students who want their Sweep volunteer hours to count toward their community service requirements.
Here are the Riverkeeper Sweep sites listed in our readership area as of presstime. Additional sites may be added by the time you read this; Riverkeeper keeps updating the list, and you might still be able to organize a new Sweep site in your community if you don’t see one below that appeals:
Accord: Rondout Creek by Land; Rondout Creek by Kayak and Canoe
Esopus: Lighthouse Park and Esopus Meadows
High Falls: Coxing Kill Trees for Tribs Planting
New Paltz: Sojourner Truth Park Trees for Tribs Planting; Wallkill River by Land; Wallkill River by Kayak and Canoe
Saugerties: Esopus Falls and Saugerties Bay by Kayak; Saugerties Marsh by Kayak; Ulster Landing and Turkey Point
Beacon: Denning’s Point; Beacon Waterfront
Lower Wappinger Creek: by Land and Kayak; from Pleasant Valley to Red Oaks Mill
Poughkeepsie: Fallkill; Kaal Rock Park; Waryas Park
Tivoli: North Bay by Canoe; South Bay with Bard College (registration closed)
Hudson: Middle Ground Flats; Greenport Conservation Area
Stuyvesant: Nutten Hook
Taghkanic: Town Hall Trees for Tribs Maintenance
Athens: Riverfront Cleanup at Brandow Point; Middle Ground Flats
Catskill: Dutchman’s Landing
Coxsackie: Riverside Park
To volunteer for any of these site cleanups, click the corresponding link on the Riverkeeper website, which will redirect you to an Eventbrite online signup form. For additional information, e-mail Dana Gulley at email@example.com.
Riverkeeper Sweep, Saturday, May 9, free, 100+ locations; www.riverkeeper.org.