Rain keeps turnout, but not spirits, low at Charles River Cleanup Day


By Beth Treffeisen, Boston Globe Correspondent

Rain pours down as volunteers brave the cold in bright purple T-shirts, picking up bottles, cigarette butts and Styrofoam cups and snipping away invasive plant species that line the Charles River.

The annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup led by the Charles River Watershed Association, celebrated its 15th anniversary on Saturday April 15 with more than 3,000 volunteers. The volunteers came as individual and from 120 groups an effort to beautify the 80-mile river.

“Each volunteer who goes out gets an experience where they connect to the river and feel more connected,” said Alexandra Ash, events coordinator for the Charles River Watershed Association. . “They will probably think twice about littering in the future. Hopefully they weren’t littering before, but it’s definitely an educational opportunity.”

According to Kate Fichter, executive director of the Esplanade Association, one of several organizations that helped organize the event, 800 volunteers signed up to work at the Esplanade but only about 200 to 300 actually showed up.

“I think there’s people who make the decision day of and I think you are getting a lot fewer of those,” said Massachusetts Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, who was scheduled to speak at the Hatch Shell. “I think that you have a lot of businesses and corporate teams that have decided to be here, and they’re here.”

The T-shirts and supplies are raised by fundraising through the CRWA and are distributed to the volunteers a week before the event, which helped create an obligation, said Eivy Monroy, who used to run the event but now works for the Rhode Island Conservation Committee.

“They have the T-shirts, they have the supplies and they know that its rain or shine, so they are still out here and they are prepared and they want to be out and its Saturday — so why not?” said Monroy.

Ozzie Bateman, the horticultural operations manager at the Esplanade Association, said that whenever they have volunteers they focus on things they normally can’t do because of lack of manpower. This year the volunteers focused on clearing away invasive plant species and trash. Because of the weather they were unable to paint park benches.

“It is the exact opposite of the weather we had last year,” said Bateman.

One of the groups participating was Next Step Living, a clean tech company located in the Seaport District that had volunteers spread out along the Esplanade.

“I wore my best outfit today!” said Kelmiah Simpson, who was wearing a clear poncho while raking up trash.

Before this year, the group would normally be at a table helping people to sign up for home energy assessments, but this year they tried to take a different approach by being more active in the cleanup.

“So now that the weather is so great,” said John Massie, as the team broke out in laughter, “we decided to do something outside and do something like this.”

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also organized a group to come out and volunteer in the rain.

“Made it a lot more of an adventure, that’s for sure,” said Elder Reeve who is volunteering for the first time this year.

Elder Orton, who was also volunteering for the first time this year, said their group mostly worked on clearing out a yellow invasive plant species that was overrunning the side of the Esplanade.

“We got a little bit wet, from the rain and the water,” said Orton. “Everyone worked really hard. It was fun.”

Since 1965 the Charles River Watershed Association has been working on restoring the Charles River back to a healthy state.

“We’ve come a long way since 1965. The Charles is actually now considered the cleanest urban river in the United States,” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said Amy Rothe, director of advancement and communications for the association.

The Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup helps bring awareness to the importance of keeping a clean river.

Fichter said, “What I can say is that we got people who came out and they were super dedicated and did a lot of great work for the park. So weather be gone — everything has seemed to gone well.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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