On Saturday, May 6, Vermont residents gathered at busy intersections and the sides of railroad tracks in an effort to “green up” the state. The green trash bags doled out each year by the non-profit organization Green Up Vermont allowed communities to remove the trash that had accumulated in public spaces throughout the year.
Started in 1970 by former Governor Deane C. Davis, Green Up Day has evolved into a Vermont tradition. The annual initiative has grown to become a day when local businesses, families and school groups join together to clean up the creases of the state that silently fill up with unwanted trash.
In order to solidify Green Up Day’s place on the state’s calendar, former Governor Richard A. Snelling created a 501 (c)3 non-profit called Green Up Vermont to run and organize the event each year in 1979. The organization orchestrates the distribution of trash bags throughout the state, and the event is promoted on local television and radio shows.
“There’s something happening in every town — all 251,” Melinda Vieux, executive director of Green Up Vermont, said. “Bit by bit, Green Up Day has grown over the years, until in recent years; people in Vermont have started to call it a Vermont icon.”
In Middlebury, Charlotte Tate and Peg Martin serve as coordinators between Green Up Vermont and the town in facilitating the cleanup. In her final year as coordinator, Martin leaves behind a strong legacy. “A true force of nature,” Vieux said, referring to Martin, who has provided the spark for the town of Middlebury’s involvement since the 1970s.
Each year, Martin can be seen tending to her “pet spots,” including areas beneath the railroad overpass and along sections of Route 7, all while adorned in her staple Green Up Day regalia: a floppy straw hat decorated with flowers and trash.
Local businesses in Middlebury have encouraged residents to participate in Green Up Day and hosted cookouts for the event. This year, organizers of the Middlebury Maple Run have pledged discounts on the cost of participating in next year’s run for those who joined in Green Up Day. As proof, runners simply need to provide a photograph showing them with a green plastic bag filled with collected trash.
Tate, one of the town’s coordinators, said that she wished students from Middlebury College were more involved in Green Up Day. “I’ve tried to bring it up to students here at the College, but it’s a very busy time,” she said. “The easiest thing is for people to take responsibility for their own travel course. If everybody were to do that, it would make a big difference.”
Although the numbers are still being calculated from this year’s Green Up Day, about 22,000 people participated statewide last year.
“There’s all this emphasis on numbers, and that’s a huge challenge for us,” Vieux said. “That number came from town coordinators, and that 22,000 figure is conservative. Rather, it’s its aliveness that determines its success.”
In passing the baton to the next Green Up Day coordinator for Middlebury, Martin hopes that whoever succeeds her continues to encourage more individuals and groups to be involved.
“I think there’s the opportunity to get a lot more people organized,” she said. “If you get a group of people going, it goes pretty quickly. You can cover a lot of ground.”