By Lauren Zaepfel
Sites across Western New York are filling up fast with volunteers for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper's annual Spring Shoreline Sweep, to be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 23.
Sponsored by the HSBC Water Programme, Buffalo Sewer Authority and Great American Cleanup, the main goals of the event are to "beautify our watershed, to clean up pollution of our watershed ... (and) to get people connected to their waterways," said Wendy Paterson, Niagara River keeper community liaison.
This year, more than 12,000 volunteers will work in groups at 40 different sites in the Buffalo-Niagara area to clean up their local waterways by picking up litter.
"(Volunteers) are often struck by what they find - like the kinds of litter that relate to everyday activities in our lives ... like the bag from your Cheez-Its that you had at lunch," Paterson said. "People usually come back to us and say, 'I never thought about how much waste I generate, or my family or my classroom, and I want to change that now.' "
The City of North Tonawanda's Audubon Nature Preserve site is already full, however there are still spots available at the Town of Wheatfield's Bergholtz Creek, and Gill Creek Park in Niagara Falls.
Former Niagara-Wheatfield student Mandi Caldwell is the volunteer site captain at Bergholtz Creek.
"It's important to have everybody get involved within their own community," she said. "I know there's a lot of nature centers in Buffalo ... but there's not as much here (in the Niagara-Wheatfield area). So it's great to get people outdoors and being aware of their environment."
Overall, Caldwell said her goal is to "clean up the best we can" while encouraging youth to "be more aware of their surroundings and pick up trash when they're, say, walking in a park."
Griffin Gansworth of LaSalle, who is also volunteering at Bergholtz Creek, said, "We're a Great Lakes state and, more important, a Great Lakes county. ... It's important to keep the waterways healthy, because it's the biggest source of fresh water in the world. So keeping the waterways healthy and free of litter and everything is really important."
Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe participated in the Fall Shoreline Sweep last September along River Road. In just two hours, he said, "We took out about a dozen bags of garbage, four completely full recycling totes and some larger items for recycling - and that was over a few hundred feet of river frontage."
To thank participants for their time and effort, a volunteer appreciation party will be held after the Spring Shoreline Sweep at 12:30 p.m. at the West Side Rowing Club, 40 Porter Ave., Buffalo.
The club, along with Great Lakes Brewing Co., will sponsor the event. Beer, food, raffles and live entertainment will be featured. Due to limited space, interested volunteers must register in advance for the party online at www.bnriverkeeper.org/cleanup.
Those who hoped to participate at a site that is already full for the Spring Shoreline Sweep now have the option of joining in additional sweeps that Buffalo Niagara River Keeper will offer monthly beginning in May.
"Something we're starting this year is we're doing monthly cleanups," Paterson said. "So that will be pretty much the last Saturday of every month. We're looking for sites (now)."
Anyone is welcome to suggest future sites as well as register for the clean sweep events. Groups, such as school classes and businesses, are also welcome. Those 18 years of age and younger must be accompanied by an adult, who can sign a waiver on their behalf. Volunteers are asked to wear appropriate footwear (flip-flops are prohibited), and to dress for the weather accordingly. Work gloves, garbage bags and recycling bags will be provided to all volunteers by their site captain.
For more information, or to register for the Spring Clean Sweep, visit http://bnriverkeeper.org/cleanup/.
For further assistance, contact Paterson at [email protected] or call 716-852-7483, ext. 26.