Volunteers show some love to the Blackstone River for Watershed-wide Cleanup Day

Volunteers show some love to the Blackstone River for Watershed-wide Cleanup Day

Former Blackstone River Watershed Association President JoAnne Holahan and volunteer Owen Thomas show off the bags of trash collected at a 2018 cleanup event at Axtell Brook in Grafton, Mass.

With spring in the air, residents of the valley are making sure that the Blackstone River – and its many tributaries, ponds and streams – are ready for the warmer months and the recreational opportunities that summer brings.

This Saturday, April 13, from 9 a.m. to noon, members of local organizations will gather in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for Blackstone River Watershed-wide Cleanup Day, a multi-state cleanup taking place at sites along the river. Volunteers are invited to participate in the effort to beautify and bring awareness to the watershed that stretches from Worcester to Pawtucket.

“People, I think, want to give back to the community, and one way of doing that is by cleaning up,” said Maggie Plasse, a Blackstone resident and one of the day’s coordinators.

Plasse serves on the board of the Blackstone River Watershed Association, a Massachusetts organization that promotes clean water quality and environmental education on the river’s upper half. This year, the BRWA is partnering with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and Rhode Island organizations to expand their spring cleanup efforts and are hoping for at least 100 volunteers on Saturday. Groups can meet at the Blackstone Heritage Corridor office at 670 Linwood Ave. in Whitinsville, Mass., where they’ll receive supplies and be directed to a cleanup site.

“We can do more sites in one day and bring about awareness of the length of the river and that it spans both states,” she said.

Plasse, who has participated in cleanups along the river for more than a decade, said the types of debris volunteers find has changed as people become more aware of the river’s environmental and recreational importance. Where they once found furniture and washing machines that had been dumped illegally, they now tend to find household trash and litter that blows over from roads and people’s yards. Many of the smaller items make their way to the river through storm drains, which is why the organization is encouraging residents to “adopt a storm drain” in their area and keep it clear of litter that could end up downstream.

Over the years, monitoring by the BRWA and other organizations has shown that the water quality of the river continues to improve, though there are still remnants of its industrial past, according to Plasse. Opportunities such as the Blackstone River Greenway bike path are bringing more residents than ever in contact with the river and increasing their awareness of its importance, she said.

“It’s such a great asset, and I think people are seeing that. The bike path has brought a lot of people to the river that didn’t go before.”

In Rhode Island, the group’s Ocean State counterpart, the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, will coordinate cleanup efforts on the river and at nearby Scott Pond in Lincoln. Keith Hainley, a Woonsocket resident and BRWC board member, said volunteers can meet either at the Scott Pond parking area on Lower Road or at the BRWC Environmental Education Center located at 100 New River Road.

“Anybody can volunteer and we really appreciate it, because you can’t make more hands,” he said. “What I can do by myself is limited, but what I can do with the help of other people is great.”

Like Plasse, Hainley said that in recent years, much of the litter found along the river or in Scott Pond, which is fed by the Blackstone Canal, comes from town centers via storm drain. Local cleanup efforts such as Yellow Bag Day, sponsored by The Valley Breeze every year in Cumberland, are equally important to their work in the watershed, he said, because they clear away litter before it makes its way to the river.

“We used to have people who would dump trash right on the river, but since there’s more bikeways and people on the river, that’s done,” he said. “But any time the river gets high and goes down, it leaves a lot of residue and it’s all from storm drains. Plastic bottles, that kind of containers.”

In addition to the April 13 event, the BRWC hosts monthly cleanup events throughout the year, including some by boat, and Hainley said the organization is happy to help other community groups coordinate their own cleanups. Residents can also support the group’s efforts financially by becoming BRWC members.

For more information about cleanup sites in Massachusetts or to register in advance, visit www.thebrwa.org or contact Maggie Plasse at maggie.plasse@gmail.com. For more information about cleanup sites in Rhode Island, contact Keith Hainley at dkhainley@gmail.com. Sponsoring organizations will provide supplies and coordinate trash pickup from the cleanup sites.