BRATTLEBORO — Green Up Day, a volunteer roadside cleanup effort, will be a little different this year as coronavirus concerns are limiting gatherings.
"We definitely can't be together in the same way," said Robin Rieske, Green Up Day coordinator in Brattleboro. "We used to have a lot of companies or Girl Scout groups or civic organizations that would bring people together in larger groups and go out and do it together, and we are not seeing that same level of activity due to social distancing."
However, Rieske suggested families and individuals might find the cleanup to be the "perfect" social distancing activity. She said gloves were always encouraged but wearing masks will be a decision left to each person.
Green Up Day organizers are celebrating the event's 50th anniversary. Usually held the first Saturday of every May, the event was postponed until this Saturday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A list of contacts with information about how to participate in each community is broken up by county and can be found at greenupvermont.org/town-contact-list. The website describes the annual tradition as "the largest statewide volunteer event in Vermont with over 22,500 taking part, and the longest running statewide Green Up Day in the United States."
"It will be very interesting to see what the turnout will be this year," said Kate Alberghini, executive director of Green Up Vermont. "Many towns have been anxious to get out and Green Up since the beginning of April with ongoing efforts. Does this mean more trash picked up? I am not sure. Some towns feel with school closures, we may not have the numbers of volunteers we have seen in the past. It is hard to project with so many unknowns but the outcome will be interesting to learn from."
The hope is to still see a lot of participation.
"It's such a Vermont tradition — I mean for 50 years our state has been doing it — and I think Vermont relies on it in a lot of ways," Rieske said. "We really do help incredibly to make Vermont green."
Bags are available at Brown and Roberts, the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Brooks Memorial Library and Brattleboro Food Co-op. Tables will be set up Saturday at the co-op, Pliny Park on Main Street, Brattleboro Subaru and the West Brattleboro Fire Department lawn.
Rieske also is working with the Townshend-based Community Hope and Action group. Bags will be provided to participants from 8 a.m. to noon in the Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School parking lot.
"We'll hand them a bag with one of the grabber devices so there will be no contact for them to get a bag," Rieske said.
Bags of garbage will be left in a dump truck at the Townshend town garage.
While Rieske has no sense of just how big turnout will be, she said she has heard from a lot of folks who intend to participate. She believes many people know about the event because it is long standing.
Rieske said a banner could not be hung over Main Street in Brattleboro this year. Social media, websites and other forms of media are being used for promotion.
"This is the best we can do," Rieske said. "Even putting up posters this year is different. Where will we put them so people will see them?"
She said it is "a little disappointing that it's our 50th and we can't celebrate big."
Rieske expects sites to have granola bars instead of donuts and coffee.
"We now just want people to safely pick up their bags and then safely pick up their garbage," she said.
Kathy Larsen, coordinator in Wilmington, said it is "really hard to predict" turnout this year. Usually, bags are made available at the town office downtown but the office is mostly closed to the public.
Larsen said she received some emails about cleaning up before Saturday but not as many inquiries as previous years.
"I'm not sure what to expect at all," she said.
With the date being later this year, Larsen said it is much more difficult to see garbage on the sides of the roads. Grass and shrubs have grown, covering up the litter.
Larsen said one woman took six bags to clean up a section of Shearer Hill Road and only needed two because a lot of the trash was hidden.
Normally, free lunch is offered in Wilmington. But gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed in Vermont.
"It will be different but I think we've got a good reputation so hopefully if we have one off year, it won't make a difference," Larsen said. "It's definitely something people can do safely. We'll just hope some people give it a shot."
Bags will be available at the entrance to Buzzy Town Park on South Main Street from 9 to 11 a.m. Coordinators will assign routes and answer questions, keeping social distancing procedures in place. Masks, long pants, gloves and sturdy shoes are recommended.
The Wilmington Highway Department will pick up bags left along the roadside the week after Green Up Day. Participants are asked to tie the bags securely.
In Whitingham, bags will be available at Town Hill Park starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. Aysha Wahlstrom, coordinator, said she will not be present at the site.
"We typically have a map and highlighter," she said. "People who regularly come know how to mark it."
Wahlstrom said a sign will clearly describe how to make their route known and what to do with the trash. Participants are asked to wear gloves, bright clothing and a mask if working in a group. Social distancing is to be practiced. No food will be served this year.
While Wahlstrom is a little worried turnout will not be as high, she said she is trying not to be pessimistic.
"I think people are pretty squirrely about being around each other," she said, hoping that a large sign her 13-year-old child made and media promoting the event will inspire participation.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.