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Talking up trash pickup to help the community

Stonington — Thaler Hefel has become the local pied piper of volunteer trash pickup.

The 27-year-old stone mason, a Pawcatuck resident, said it all began about a month ago, after a series of zoning-violation complaints that he believed neighbors must have called in. So he decided to show residents he was a good guy by walking up and down Farmholme, Greenhaven and Barnes roads picking up trash near his home on Palmer Neck Road.

"It's the neighborhood I grew up in," he said. "Maybe instead of complaints, they'd see the reality of what kind of people we are."

So he bought a bunch of trash bags, spending several hours on a Sunday picking up an amazing amount of refuse — 500 pounds in three miles, according to his estimation, much of which was empty liquor bottles. A couple days later, it was up to 1,000 pounds.

He got help from town workers to haul it away and posted his results on Facebook, showing litter along the winding rural road that he was able to make disappear, thanks to town pickup.

"What a great idea to keep your community beautiful," was a typical response. Others wanted to help the next time he went out, so he created a new Facebook page, TrashTalkCT, and planned his first Trash Rally Feb. 24, attended by about 35 people, including those from the Avalonia Land Trust.

A second rally was held last weekend, involving about 30 people for about four hours, including Stonington Ambulance personnel and students from Stonington High School. They met at Macondo coffee shop at 8 a.m. for free coffee and food, then marched out to pick up refuse on Route 1A, the Stonington Community Center, around the Velvet Mill and near Town Hall, netting about 400 pounds of trash.

Hefel said that in just a month, the trash haul has hit a ton, with several sponsors stepping in to help support the group, paying for reflective vests for safety, as well as gloves, food and trash grabbers.

Patrick Kelley of Groton, a local environmentalist, said Hefel's youthful enthusiasm has started a spark throughout the region. From 8:30 to 11 a.m. next Saturday, he's planning a trash rally on Drozdyk Drive and Buddington Road in Groton, and similar groups, he said, are forming in Montville, Ledyard, New London and Norwich, thanks to Hefel's inspiration.

"He threw the biggest pebble and now it's reverberating out," Kelley said. "It's just getting going. It's beautiful."

The Town of Stonington has shown support, Hefel said, by allowing him to dispose of the trash at the transfer station on Greenhaven Road without charge. First Selectman Rob Simmons even attended one of Hefel's rallies.

"I'm not trying to get anything out of it, just a cleaner neighborhood," Hefel said. "What it's been building right now ... is just raising awareness and creating community."

Hefel is hoping that the rest of the community, seeing their neighbors out picking up trash, will be a little more careful about what they throw out their car windows.

"Responsible disposal is huge," he said. "I like people, and I like the idea of people getting together."

It's also been a boon to see how many young people have come out for the trash rallies, he said. Some high schoolers do it as part of their community service requirement, he added.

"I think by being younger, I can make it more fun, or more cool, or whatever they need it to feel like," he said.


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