For New Englanders, spring is a much-anticipated season. These first warm, sunny days after a bitter winter bring purple crocuses, budding trees, and singing birds, as well as feelings of renewal and joyful anticipation of time spent outdoors. As May approaches, it seems like every corner of our landscape is home to beautiful vistas and diverse wildlife. In Vermont in particular, these treasures of a healthy ecosystem are part of our identity. 

“Vermonters are very proud of their state,” says Kate Alberghini, Executive Director of Green Up Vermont and herself a lifelong Vermonter, “they’re not too good to pick up a piece of trash.”

Kate Alberghini, Green Up Vermont Executive Director

Each spring for the last 53 years, Vermonters have been doing just that. Green Up Day, the principal initiative of Green Up Vermont, is held every year on the first Saturday in May – this year, May 6th. Started in 1970 by Governor Deane C. Davis, the state-wide event aims to bring together people from across Vermont to remove litter and trash from the environment. That first Green Up Day saw the interstate highway system closed off for the morning, while students from schools across Vermont were bused in to help clean up the roadsides. More than 70,000 people showed up to help remove litter, while Governor Davis traveled around the state via helicopter to thank volunteers, landing each time on the empty interstate. Volunteers picked up enough trash to save Vermont taxpayers an estimated $200,000 in road cleanup fees!

Continuing in that tradition, volunteers of all ages and abilities join in by signing up for routes, taking trash bags provided by Green Up and filling them with all sorts of discarded items – from cans and bottles to plastic jugs and tires. The trash bags are then deposited in common dumpsters, and the weight of trash tallied to keep track of the year’s success. 

Last year, that success was huge in Quechee. According to Matt Osborn, Hartford Town Planner and coordinator of Hartford’s Green Up Day efforts since 1998, a total of 456 people in the town volunteered and collected more than 6,600 pounds of waste.

Green Up Day is a decades old Vermont tradition

“I think in Hartford we are very fortunate, and people care about the community,” Osborn says. Some businesses traditionally give employees the day off work so that they can participate in Green Up Day. Every year, a local girl scout troop participates in Quechee’s Green Up Day efforts. “It’s the biggest pleasure that I get…it’s really nice to see the smiles on their faces and to see that they are contributing.”

Involving young children and students is one of the ways Green Up Vermont sees their work as vital to the long-term health of the state’s ecosystem. In addition to litter pick-up and waste management, Green Up Vermont also offers K-12 educational materials about pollution and waste management. 

Barb Bazarian drops off Green Up bags.

Many people in the Quechee area have volunteered consistently for years, and “really know the routine” according to Osborn. Harvey and Barbara Bazarian, who moved to the area in 2005, are dedicated volunteers whom Osborn says make Quechee’s Green Up Day possible.

“The biggest challenge was clean-up after Irene,” says Harvey Bazarian. “Junk cluttered the riverbanks up to the Taftsville bridge and would remain permanently unless cleared before the spring growth. It continues to amaze me that the heroic senior members of the Garden Club and new volunteers trek through the brush to clear refuse.”

Vermont’s population is growing, too. Quechee’s Green Up Day volunteer numbers increased by 33% in 2022. How has Green Up Day embraced these newcomers, who may have never heard of the event?

“One of the great things about Green Up Day and Green Up Vermont is we’re all about community building,” says Alberghini. Getting involved in Green Up came naturally to Alberghini; after spending time representing small businesses and working for the state, she was excited for the opportunity to care for Vermont and share that care with others. “New Vermonters want to be part of the community they’re moving to.” Working with schools, town gatherings, fairs, and even realtors to reach new people in the state, Green Up Vermont has recently focused on growing its visibility. She was delighted last year to see a town fair in Williston, VT in support of Green Up Day, with prizes for children. Green Up Day is “something everyone can do. We empower everyone to do it by handing out those supplies to every person who wants a bag.”

This flexibility is what makes Green Up Day so successful and accessible in Vermont. If you can’t commit to helping on May 6th, you can participate on a nearby date more convenient for you. Bags will be available for pick up at Hartford Town Hall and the Quechee Library as early as April 17th, with the communal dumpsters at the town hall and Quechee Green from May 3rd–8th. Supplies, instructions, and safety information are provided for everyone who wants to lend a hand.

A private nonprofit reliant on volunteers and corporate partners contributions, last year, Green Up Vermont began fund-raising for an endowment. A gala hosted in Stowe in November 2022 kicked off this $1.5 million effort, which will hopefully see Green Up Vermont able to host and provide resources for Green Up Day in perpetuity. Green Up Vermont’s newest corporate partner, Orvis, saw its employees partake in helping Green up along the Ottauquechee River last year, and will continue to grow those efforts.

This pride in the environment and civic engagement, seen from businesses, schoolchildren, and community volunteers alike, “is just as important as picking up litter,” Alberghini reminds us. “We’re helping care for our fish and wildlife, stream and rivers, and all living things.” She continues, “There is such a show of love in communities coming together and doing some good. It’s a really cool thing to take part in.”