ADDISON COUNTY — On April 18, 1970, police officers spent the day in Addison stationed at the Vermont terminus of the Champlain Bridge, handing out trash bags to motorists on their way into the state and asking that they clean up the roadsides during their drive.
This May 1, nobody will be coming from across the now-demolished bridge to pick up trash. But 40 years after Gov. Deane Davis drummed up support for that very first Green Up Day, people statewide again will turn out to clean up the roadsides, parking lots and public spaces and promote the stewardship of Vermont’s natural landscape.
To Suzy Roorda, a member of the Green Up Vermont board of directors and the New Haven town Green Up coordinator, the best thing about the day is how clear the results are.
“It’s instant gratification,” she said. “When you’re walking back along a road you’ve cleaned, you can see that the whole other side is green.”
As has become tradition, coordinators in all Addison County towns will hand out green trash bags to anyone willing to pick up rubbish along the public roadways. Roorda estimated that New Haven has around 400 Green Up Day volunteers each year. But participation has had to build over the four decades since the first Green Up Day.
Lawrence Denis of Whiting remembers the nascent days of Green Up in Vermont. Now 85, Denis was the Whiting road commissioner in 1971. The only one in town with a dump truck, he automatically became the local Green Up commissioner that year.
In the five or so years that he participated in Green Up Day, Denis watched the clean up become more organized and attract more people. The first year, though, it was not a big event.
“They (the state) furnished the bags, and the kids would come and I’d give them a chocolate bar and a soft drink when we were done,” he said.
He remembered having between 10 and 15 volunteers that year. Even with so few volunteers, though, they filled his dump truck — twice — with trash from the roadside.
Over the years, Green Up Day changed. At first, Denis had to take the trash to the Salisbury dump himself. Later, he and his volunteers simply left the bags at the intersections to be picked up by official Green Up trucks driving throughout the county.
Now Green Up Day is a well-established tradition, attracting help from 4-H groups, the Boy Scouts, college students and families. Roorda said she thinks people come back to help out every year because even the smallest actions combine to bring such clear results.
“It’s contagious stewardship,” she said.
Roorda has been involved with Green Up Day for just a decade, and this is her sixth year on the statewide board of directors. She has fond memories of the groups that have passed through to green up the town. One year, she said, a group of horseback riders arrived at the park to pick up trash bags. They headed out to clean up the woods, ski poles in tow to pick up trash. An hour after that, a group of skateboarders arrived, and after they’d filled their trash bags they rolled them back to the town green.
In her years as town coordinator, Roorda has also brought the celebration to a new level — many years she books an outdoor performance by Bristol band the Ridgerunners, and when people are done cleaning up she encourages them to come back to the park to listen to the band, eat hot dogs and celebrate a successful day.
This year, though, Roorda said she is toning down the town festivities. She’ll still be handing out hot dogs until noon, but in the afternoon she’s encouraging people to head up to Montpelier for the 40th anniversary celebration of Green Up Day on the Statehouse lawn.
A MONUMENTAL TASK
For Green Up Day to run smoothly every year, hundreds of people in Addison County work to set up activities and events, to get trash bags and publicity materials to each town, and to process the trash after volunteers bring it in. April Burnham, of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD), is the Addison County Green Up coordinator. This is her fourth year as coordinator, and she said she and the town coordinators are already set for the day — she distributed the requested 4,725 bags to the 23 towns in the county by the end of March.
In past years, she said, this process hasn’t always gone as smoothly — the bags and other Green Up supplies come into Montpelier to be distributed statewide, and often she spends the week before Green Up Day scrambling to get the bags out to towns in time.
But it’s the time after Green Up Day that is the busiest over at ACSWMD. Last year almost 19 tons of trash came in the following week.
“It’s hopping here,” Burnham said.
For Burnham, though, the crunch times before and after the event are worth it.
“It’s all about trying to keep this beautiful state green,” said Burnham.
To Roorda, though, the fact that Green Up Day is necessary shows that there is still work to be done. When she talks to the students at Beeman Elementary about participating in the cleanup, she reminds them that it’s not enough to clean up the roadsides on one day of the year.
“Live your life like every day is Green Up Day,” she said. “If we all did that, then there would be no need to have Green Up day.”
For a town-by-town list of Green Up Day coordinators for Addison County and Brandon visit www.addisonindependent.com.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.