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Volunteers from Prentiss Smith & Company help clean up the homeless encampment near the Elm Street bridge, in Brattleboro, Vt., as part of Connecticut River Conservancy’s 25th annual Source to Sea Cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. The annual Source to Sea Cleanup is a river cleanup coordinated by the Connecticut River Conservancy in all four states, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, along the 410-mile Connecticut River basin. This event is one of the largest river cleanups in the country. Thousands of volunteers remove trash along rivers, streams, parks, boat launches, trails, and more.

BRATTLEBORO — Volunteers fished litter out of the Whetstone Brook on Saturday in a broader effort to clean the Connecticut River and its tributaries.

As part of the Connecticut River Conservancy’s Source to Sea Cleanup, a group sponsored by Prentiss Smith & Company worked from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. off the Elm Street bridge to dispose of trash by the brook. A second group, sponsored by the Brattleboro Outing Club, worked on Sunday to clean out the mouth of the West River.

Kathy Urffer, who does community outreach for the CRC, said the cleanup effort went well this year. She cited the amount of groups that were scheduled to work in the area over the weekend. Besides the two in Brattleboro, a group in Dummerston also worked that day, and a group in West Chesterfield, N.H., worked on Friday.

“Always good to have more volunteers,” she said.

Those volunteers included Karlie and Harry Borst, who returned for their second year as a team. Karlie Borst said she did this solely to keep the seas clean.

“It’s become a huge problem,” she said. “It’s just horrifying.”

According to the CRC’s Cleanup Chronicle, various groups fished 34.9 tons of trash out of the Connecticut and its tributaries during last year’s cleanup. This included 5,110 plastic and glass bottles, 3,149 aluminum cans, 946 tires, 8,002 pounds of scrap metal, and a 1995 IBM computer. The cleanup lasted a month long, as part of the CRC’s pandemic response.

Urffer said that besides intentional littering, trash usually ends up in the Connecticut through storm drains.

“Everything flows to the river,” she said. “Everything you put on the ground will eventually get there.”

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In Brattleboro and urban areas, Urffer said, trash in the river is often indicative of homelessness.

Much of the trash in and around the Whetstone Brook came from a former homeless encampment by the Elm Street bridge. Borst said that while cleaning, she uncovered clothing, tents, sleeping bags, empty cans, needles, and kids toys.

“I feel sad for the little kids,” she said. “You realize how blessed you are.”

The encampment cleanup came days after Gov. Phil Scott announced a 30-day eligibility extension to the general assistance motel voucher program for the homeless. It was originally set to expire on Thursday, Sept. 23, making 543 households no longer eligible. Activists are calling on the program to accept FEMA funds, which would keep it funded through December.

“If we could do something about our homeless issues, we could do something for the river,” Urffer said.

Urffer’s main recommendation to reduce litter in the Connecticut was to stop using plastic. She praised Vermont’s single-use products law, which bans single-use plastic bags, straws, stirrers and expanded-polystyrene containers. Urffer said these items were indicative of a “throwaway society” and the wastefulness of humans in general.

She recommended using items made out of glass and metal instead.

“If everybody could just do their part,” said Borst, “it’d be so much better.”

The Source-to-Sea Cleanup has occurred every year in the fall since 1996, making this year the 25th anniversary. According to the Cleanup Chronicle, a total of 1,202 tons of trash have been removed, disposed of, and tallied, as of September 2020.

The cleanup took place in four states containing the Connecticut River watershed: Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.