|Campers and Volunteers Team Up to Clean Pittsfield River|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
05:15PM / Wednesday, July 18, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dozens of teenagers from Camp Taconic spent a hot Wednesday morning pulling shopping carts, tires and trash out of the Housatonic River.
Tires and bicycles are some of the many things Camp Taconic volunteers helped pull from the bottom of the Housatonic.
Organized by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, campers spent two hours Wednesday and are planning to spend Thursday morning cleaning the West Branch of the river. The cleanup is one of many BEAT is organizing this year that continues its tradition of trying to keep the water clean.
"BEAT has been doing it for nine years now and we're definitely seeing progress," Bruce Winn, a BEAT strategist, said. "We now have to scout locations to make sure there is enough to keep us busy."
When BEAT first started in that branch of the river, volunteers dug out 36 shopping carts. This year, only four or five were pulled out with about the same number buried deep into the mud that the campers will try to dig out on Thursday.
This cleanup focused on a section between Columbus Avenue and Linden Street, where multiple bags of trash and large items were hauled out.
"We still have a lot to do in the Housatonic River," Winn said, adding that the cleanup is kept within the West Branch. "We don't send volunteers into the East Branch where there is the GE pollution."
Typically, BEAT partnered with the Housatonic Valley Association but this year joined for the first time with Habitat for Humanity, Camp Taconic and First Church. For campers, the work is one of many community service events planned for the summer. Also contributing to the effort with donations were Panera Bread and American Rivers.
"It's fun, it's community service and it helps with their graduation credits," said Eric Slifstein, the Hinsdale-based camp's athletic director. "We've done community service with this age group in the past but with this many students signed up for the program, they looked for something a little more out of the box."
|Protective boots and gloves were left to dry in the sun by volunteers. Right, shopping carts are typically found in the river. Does anyone know why?
Slifstein said the campers were apprehensive when they first climbed into the river but later began to have fun with it. But it wasn't until they began taking the trash out of the river when the work really hit home.
"You could really see the reality of it," Slifstein said. "I heard a lot of disbelief among the kids saying 'how can people do this?'"
Seeing all the trash they could not pull out because it was either too small — such as broken glass — or too far out of range made Slifstein wonder just how much pollution there is in the river.
Some of the campers, typically 16 years old, are helping Habitat for Humanity at the under-construction home at the intersection of Prospect and Dewey streets.
For Habitat, which made sure to feed the volunteers, bringing the various groups together to improve the whole neighborhood goes beyond just building a house — it builds a community.
"When you are improving the entire community, it has a bigger effect," Carolyn Valli, executive director, said. "We can help funnel the volunteers."
From cleaning up lots and the river to building and demolishing, the campers are now part of Habitat's neighborhood revitalization plan. According to Valli, the group is offering programs for neighbors, including financial literacy classes to help increase the number of homeowners. During the cleanup and building work, the group is also providing such demonstrations as window installations to help homeowners take better care of their property.
"It's really just getting the information to the people," Valli said. "It's really been rewarding work."