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Jul 06, 2023

"A small step in the right direction" as Vermont volunteers turn out for post

Vermonters came together Saturday for a statewide Clean Up Day to help pick up litter and debris from public spaces in the wake of catastrophic July flooding. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat

Vermonters came together Saturday for a statewide Clean Up Day to help pick up litter and debris from public spaces in the wake of catastrophic July flooding. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley checked out the activities in two communities recovering from the flood.

The Winooski River runs alongside the Dak Rowe Recreation Park in Waterbury. At 10 o’clock Saturday morning volunteers began gathering to clean up two areas: the mud-caked pavilion and the base below the swings. Nancy and Kate Reilly arrived with shovels in hand anticipating clearing silt and muck.

“We live in Middlesex but everything socially and our shopping and everything’s in Montpelier. So that’s been a tearjerker walking through and just realizing how changed that place is. And many of our neighbors own businesses there and we’ve known several that have gone out and aren’t coming back and that’s a sad thing.”

“And also just seeing the destruction on the roads still,” adds Kate Reilly. “Like, there’s still plenty of places in the roads that need to be fixed and you can still see what’s happened even though it’s been a while.”

The pavilion and recreation area was under 12 to 14 feet of water during the flooding. The area below the swings was originally filled with woodchips, but Waterbury Public Works Director Bill Woodruff explained the area had to be shoveled out.

“This type of flood mud is just, it’s really slimy. It just creates a consistency that’s not conducive for fun, you know, and that’s what recreation’s all about.”

As a cadre of volunteers begins digging out the base of the swings, another group is in the adjacent pavilion planning to power wash several inches of caked mud from the cement floor.

"All that’s going to do is put a whole bunch of mud out in the grass. Let’s see how easy it comes up with shovels."

"Yeah, it’s coming up pretty easy."

About a half hour after the adults start working on the pavilion and the swings, a school bus pulls up and about 40 athletes from East Montpelier’s U-32 School District get off.

"Hey guys, spread out. Go find some work.”

Football Coach Kevin Richards says the team has been looking for community service projects and reached out after Governor Phil Scott announced Clean Up Day.

“Several years ago when I first got into coaching I heard a coach, a high school coach out of Minneapolis, once say about volunteering that for just a little bit of time it gets kids thinking about somebody other than themselves. And what a great lesson, right? That there’s people that need help and we’re able bodied and are physically capable of helping and so let’s lend some time. So I think they’re learning that they can be important members of the community and help other people and that’s a good lesson to learn.”

Captain Shane Curtin says this will help team bonding.

“Volunteering just is a great way to make a change. Everybody should probably help out some way or another because some way or another you’re affected by it.”

Freshman baseball team member Kane Knapp joined the football team to help with the cleanup.

“I saw it as a challenge to help the community, right? We’re all going to feel better after this knowing that we did something good. It’s going to help us bond. We’re going to get strong. It’s conditioning, help the community. I play baseball so if our baseball diamond got screwed up I’d be mad and I would be happy if another team came out here to help.”

Meanwhile about 15 miles south in Montpelier, volunteers are lining up to get orange trash bags and gloves and then fan out to pick up debris and litter from the flooding. Burlington resident Dane Harrison saw highway signs promoting Clean Up Day and decided to participate.

“So close to home you know when something bad like that happens and it was emotional for sure but I felt like I could do something to help it out.”

Merle and Jamie Edwards-Orr escaped the flooding, but Jamie felt it was important to do something in light of the lingering impacts on businesses.

"A lot of the storefronts that we’ve been to recently are empty because everything was ruined. So it’s just heartbreaking to see how many people had a terrible, terrible impact from this storm. It doesn’t look right. It really doesn’t."

“No,” agrees Merle Edwards-Orr. “You know, we’re in the very much every little bit helps part. But also I think making things look better helps people feel better and so it’s progress. Is it going to fix it? Sure isn’t. But is it going to be a step in the right direction? Maybe a small step, yeah."

Jamie Edwards-Orr checks in with a volunteer coordinator.

“We’re just here to volunteer but we don’t know where to go.”

“I know there’s a ton of people and help needed along this bike path.”

Montpelier Parks and Trees Department Supervisor Leila Faulstich was helping coordinate the volunteers.

“It’s so important both for the environment and also for our souls aesthetically. For the last month it feels like everywhere you go there’s just trash and the river washing up trash and just disgusting. And so I think partly for the environment partly for just the feeling, the soul of the city, it feels really important.”

About a dozen communities participated in Saturday’s Clean Up Day.