Clippings: Green Up: 'Treasures in the trash'
On April 18, 1970, then Gov. Deane Davis — clad in work clothes and a brimmed hat with a dozen Boy Scouts in front of him — posed for a photo in the middle of Interstate 89 outside of Montpelier while picking up trash along the highway. It was the state’s first Green Up Day and the governor (who also pushed through Act 250 under Addison County Sen. Art Gibb’s leadership) closed the interstate for the day (imagine!) so Vermonters could safely clean up the state’s busiest thoroughfare.
That’s taking the issue to heart — and making a statement.
At the time, the state ramped up the citizens’ expectations of what they had to do, and broadcast the mission in no uncertain terms — “to promote the stewardship of our state’s natural landscape and waterways and the livability of our communities by involving people in Green Up Day and raising public awareness about the benefits of a litter-free environment.”
Forty years later, Vermonters will celebrate Green Up Day on Saturday, May 1. Across the state, savvy Vermont citizens will set aside their morning — armed with the specially marked green trash bags (although any bag will work) — to clean up sections of their downtowns, neighborhoods, stretches of their favorite running or biking routes, or sections of the rivers, lakes or streams they most frequently visit.
It is a grand tradition celebrated Vermont-style: We honor it with a special day and make it a community event. Pot lucks and bar-b-ques are held in the afternoons in many communities, and this year a special 40th celebration will take place on the Statehouse lawn with live music, food, and, of course, Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Truck. It’s from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., it’s free, and — true to form — it’ll be held rain or shine.
Only in Vermont would we celebrate a day of picking up trash — and we can say that with deserved pride!
On a personal note, the girls and I have spent years cleaning up different sections of the town.
In those early years, it was the neighborhood around Painter Hills in Middlebury. Youngest daughter Elsie (now 23) recently recalled finding telephone pole insulators — “those pretty green glass things that make really good candle holders” —and, along with the bottles and cans and paper products, things of metal and other “treasures in the trash.”
But mostly she remembers it as being a time to be with the neighborhood and “family time.” “It was fun,” she remembers, “and we were doing some good.”
In later years, we spent hours picking up dozens of bags of trash in the Marble Works area down to Greg’s Market and along the railroad tracks to Merchants Row… then a quick run through downtown to get the biggest stuff others had missed and to grouse about the obscene number of cigarette butts that lay as a testament to thoughtlessness along the curbs of an otherwise charming Vermont village.
As I think back over the past 25 years of celebrating Green Up Day in Vermont, I remain in awe of the concept, though as time goes by, less and less enthralled with the public follow-through.
The challenge today is to reignite the spark and the passion that was there 40 years ago.
As citizens we need to embrace the mission — “to promote the stewardship of our state’s natural landscape and waterways … and raise public awareness about the benefits of a litter-free environment” — by helping each of our town’s Green Up Day coordinators organize clean-up events, mobilize the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, 4-Hers and Rotary members, teen groups and Boys and Girls Clubs, school sports teams and/or school groups of all sorts to get the job done. And then help is needed to plan larger and more visible displays of town or neighborhood celebrations after the morning’s work. While picking up trash is important, celebrating the community’s stewardship of the land is equally valuable. (You can find a list of town coordinators on our staff blog here or at www.greenupvermont.org.)
Green Up Day truly is a cause for celebration that is uniquely Vermont. But we must embrace it wholeheartedly to keep it about being with family, neighbors and community — and, for kids, a time to find “treasures in the trash.”
When such treasures are part of the memories of childhood, we know we’re doing something right.