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Volunteers sought for riverbank cleaning effort

Trash collected at a past river cleanup by the Westfield River Watershed Association. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD-Ensuring the beauty and viability of our local waterways takes work – and area residents are being asked to lend a hand in that effort on Sept. 26 during a fall river clean-up in Westfield and Agawam.

“River clean-ups provide folks with a chance to really practice environmental stewardship, looking after one of the community’s greatest resources,” said Brian Conz, president of the Westfield River Watershed Association (WRWA), sponsor of the event. Conz also serves as chair of the Department of Geography, Planning and Sustainability at Westfield State University.

Conz, who has been a WRWA board member since 2010, noted this event is a hands-on way to become involved in the annual endeavor. Volunteers will work from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and a rain date of Sept. 27 has been set.

“So often we hear about environmental problems and feel helpless to do anything about them,” said Conz. “With clean-ups people know they are safeguarding the river’s beauty and building solidarity with like-minded neighbors.”

Sheryl Becker, who is spearheading the Agawam clean-up effort, shared a similar sentiment.

“My passion is based on my love and appreciation for nature and all our fellow creatures,” said Becker, who serves as a WRWA director. “If we want to enjoy our waterways we must take care of them.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the spring clean-up effort, Becker is hopeful that more individuals will turn out for the fall gathering where wearing face masks and social distancing will be required.

“It is more important than ever, as I’ve been seeing twice the number of people along our waterways this year, due to the virus,” said Becker, adding, “that means twice as much trash.”

Becker noted that much of the trash in the Connecticut River ends up in the ocean since it empties into Long Island Sound.

“Much of the trash we find is deadly to all the wildlife that live off or within riverfront habitats,” said Becker. “We find tons of plastic bags, broken glass, styrofoam, bottles and small pieces of plastic that creatures ingest or choke on.”

Becker said taking advantage of the current drought by cleaning now will help the rivers thrive.

“We need as many people as possible to participate in our clean-ups with such low water levels,” she said.

Participants wishing to help in Westfield are asked to meet promptly at 9 a.m. on Sept. 26 for orientation and a clean-up site assignment, led by WRWA first vice president Mark Damon. The meet-up area is in the Meadow Street parking lot, south of the Great River Bridges. 

In Agawam, Becker will greet volunteers at Pynchon Point (take the South End Bridge to River Road, toward Six Flags). 

The clean-up effort will be conducted in conjunction with the Connecticut River Conservancy’s annual Source to Sea clean-up endeavor.

WRWA organizers are urging volunteers to wear boots or sturdy shoes and long pants that can get wet and grungy, and to bring a reusable water bottle. A water cooler will be provided for refills and light refreshments will be offered. In addition, hand sanitizer, gloves and garbage bags will be provided for volunteers.

For more information on volunteering, contact Becker at (413) 374-1921 or Damon at (413) 977-1577, or visit or check out the WRWA Facebook page.

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