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The annual cleanup of the Connecticut River is more important this year than ever, due to the large amounts of trash and debris carried into the river and washing up onto riverbanks by Tropical Storm Irene and recent flooding in Vermont.
So says the Connecticut River Watershed Council, which has been organizing the Annual Source to Sea Cleanup each fall for the past 15 years. This year, most of the cleanups on the river and its tributaries will take place Oct. 1. Included will be 16 sites in the Connecticut portion of the river, which extends into Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Locally, a cleanup is being planned for the Great Island marsh area in Old Lyme. Other lower Connecticut River sites may be added.
Jacqueline Talbot, cleanup coordinator for the council, said last week that more than 50 groups have registered to work at various sites. About 1,500 volunteers had signed up as of Friday, and more are being sought. Talbot said people who want to volunteer on their own can tally their trash using a form on the council's website.
"The flood inflicted great losses on many communities and also caused great harm to river habitats and species," she said. "Joining the cleanup is helping your neighbors put their lives back together and improving shoreline habitats and water quality in our rivers and streams."
At the Great Island site, Wick Griswold, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, will lead one of his classes in the Oct. 1 cleanup. Working on the cleanup has been an assignment for the class, "The Sociology of the Connecticut River," for the past few years, he said.
"I spent my summers at Griswold Point, so that part of the world is important to me," he said. Griswold Point, at the mouth of the river near Great Island, is named for his family.
In past years, he said, he and his students have picked up parts of buildings and docks, tires and large amounts of plastic off the Great Island marshes, employing a specially rigged canoe attached to a platform pontoon barge to carry large items to shore. This year, because of the storm, he is expecting to find even more large items that need to be moved.
"But nothing that a few big, strong college guys can't lift," he said.
His group will meet at 9 a.m. at the state boat launch off Smith Neck Road and paddle kayaks to the marshes.
Talbot asked that anyone interested in volunteering at one of the cleanup sites register in the next few days so the council can send information and supplies such as bags and work gloves. She warned that the storm debris may pose hazards at some of the sites.
"Above all, we want people to be safe," Talbot said. "In some places, unstable piles of trees and debris are all tangled up together. If group leaders have questions about safety, they should consult their local fire department or highway department and only tackle areas that are not dangerous."
To join a cleanup group or learn more about the event, visit: www.ctriver.org. Those who want to support the cleanup but are unable to volunteer can also find information there about donating toward expenses.