Around Town

Volunteers will give riverbanks a needed cleanup

Some of the 3 tons of items removed from the Westfield River and its banks during the cleanup in West Springfield in fall 2020. (Submitted photo by Sheryl Becker)

WESTFIELD — Two area residents are hopeful that people of all ages will answer the call to help clean up several riverbanks this fall.

The annual fall river cleanup, sponsored by the Westfield River Watershed Association, is slated next Saturday, Sept. 25, in Westfield, and Oct. 9 in Agawam. The Agawam cleanup, ordinarily on the same day as Westfield’s, is being conducted two weeks later so it will not conflict with traffic at the Big E.

Mark Damon, first vice president of the WRWA, is coordinating logistics for the Westfield clean-up effort and Sheryl Becker, WRWA director, is a co-organizer of the Agawam project.

“I anticipate sending groups out to sites in Huntington, Russell, Westfield and West Springfield,” said Damon.

Both Damon and Becker note the region’s watersheds are “critical resources” that must be protected and preserved, and there are certain areas along the riverbanks that require a “good cleaning” two to three times a year.

“We have made significant progress in the cleanups over the years,” said Damon. “We still get some bad spots, but not on the scale we used to see with kitchen appliances, etc., thrown over the side of the riverbank.”

Becker shared a similar sentiment.

“I am involved with WRWA because our wetlands and waterways are essential to our entire ecosystem and must be protected,” said Becker. “I have a great love and appreciation for nature and all our fellow creatures and am very concerned about the health of our waterways nowadays with increasing overdevelopment, pollution and climate change.”

Becker noted it is essential to educate the public about the critical role our waterways play.

“We must increase awareness so others will help protect and maintain them as well,” she said, adding, “unfortunately, the state and federal regulations are far too weak and we must advocate for stricter regulations.”

Damon concurred.

“If we want to make a change for the better, and most of us do, we need to remember the old dictum — ‘think globally, act locally,’” said Damon. “When we get out and clean up the river, we help protect the water supply, help preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species, help preserve corridors for wildlife to migrate through to escape the worst of climate change, and help to maintain the forests that absorb some of the carbon dioxide causing warming.”

Both agreed that everyone pitching in makes a small contribution — and the small contributions add up.

“We preserve something else too, something for ourselves — a source of beauty, peace, and physical and psychological health — recreation in the literal sense,” said Damon. “To be out on the river is to reconnect with the best in ourselves.”

Area residents interested in assisting with the Westfield cleanup are asked to meet at the parking lot across from the Westfield School of Music, at the end of Meadow Street, just prior to the 9 a.m. start time for a brief orientation and site assignment. The cleanup effort ends between noon and 1 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 26.

In Agawam, volunteers will meet at Pynchon Point (take the South End Bridge Circle to River Road, toward Six Flags), and gather just before 9 a.m. for orientation and site assignment. The cleanup ends by 1 p.m. The rain date for the cleanup is Oct. 10.

Organizers note that all COVID-19 precautions will be in effect and volunteers are asked to bring a mask in the event they are not able to socially distance. Young people are also welcome to participate in the cleanup effort, however, kids must be supervised by an adult.

Hand sanitizer, gloves and bags will be provided, and volunteers are asked to wear boots or sturdy shoes, and long pants if possible. 

“Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting grungy and wet,” said Becker.

Light refreshments will be served, and participants are asked to bring reusable water bottles.

For more information, contact Damon for Westfield sites at 413-572-9991 or [email protected], or Becker for the Agawam site at 413-374-1921 or [email protected]

“If we want to enjoy our waterways we must take care of them,” said Becker. “Due to the pandemic more people are out on the rivers, meaning more trash. Much of the trash we find is deadly to all the wildlife that live off or within riverfront habitats.”

For more information on also becoming involved with WRWA efforts, visit www.westfieldriver.org or check out its Facebook page.

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