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Slayton: Green Up Day

Greenup Day, as just about every Vermonter knows, is a Saturday in May dedicated to a statewide cleanup effort. What you may not know, however, is just how widespread this effort has become.

It was started in 1970 by Gov. Deane C. Davis. By the 1990s, 7,000 Vermonters in towns across the state were involved. And today, more than 20,000 individuals in every single town in Vermont arm themselves with rakes and trash bags and head out to do battle with a winter’s worth of trash.

Greenup Director Melinda Vieux said that when she became director of the program in the late 1990s, they were distributing about 20,000 trash bags. Now more than 50,000 trash bags go out to local coordinators to be filled with waste paper, discarded coffee cups, unreturned beer cans, and whatever else inevitably piles up over Vermont’s long winter.

Every Vermont town now organizes its own day-long effort, and the state Transportation Agency pitches in by getting bags out to local communities and by cleaning up Vermont’s Interstate highways.

Last year, it appeared for a while that Greenup Day was in trouble. It’s not a state-funded program – it became a private non-profit in 1979 and so has to raise its ownfunding. But some of the corporate sponsorships on which Greenup Day depends for its $133,000 budget were drying up.

The Legislature responded by putting a voluntary contribution checkoff box on the state tax form. It’s still too early to know just how successful that will be in raising the money needed to fund Greenup Day for the long haul. But director Vieux is cautiously hopeful. She says it has at least the potential to make Greenup Day sustainable.

More immediately significant is fact that Green Mountain Power has stepped up, pledging major financing as a “signature corporate partner” for at least three years.

Local support for the program is widespread and many Vermont towns now value the tradition and friendship of the spring cleanup day as much as the trash-free roadsides that result. Often, free snacks, assistance from town officials or a community dinner are part of the day. In Montpelier they’ll create a wire-frame dinosaur on the State House lawn – and fill it with trash!

But that seems to be the way it is in Vermont. You start a ball rolling and if it has positive spin, it can gather momentum, producing energy and outcomes you had never imagined.

You work for cleaner roads and towns, and get a fresh dose of community spirit as a result. And that sounds pretty good to me.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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