Winooski River clean up yields stacks of tires, metal for junk art, and a call for action

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Winooski River clean up yields stacks of tires, metal for junk art, and a call for action

Thu, 09/15/2016 - 4:56am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine  If you were anywhere near the Winooski River in Montpelier or Middlesex this past Saturday, you probably saw dozens of people wading through the water carrying buckets and pushing canoes full of tires. There were kids as young as six, employees from local businesses, and even an entire AmeriCorps crew from the NCCC Atlantic Region out of Baltimore. It may have looked like an odd scene, but the facts of the matter—and the numbers—are common for Friends of the Winooski River volunteers. 

This year, 60 hardy citizens risked soggy boots and gloves to remove over 100 tires and several truck loads of junk metal and trash (the final weight is still pending) in a three hour period and, shockingly, from mostly the same stretches of river that are cleaned up every year. These numbers are up from last year when volunteers picked up trash from four sites and pulled 52 tires out of the river. 

“We had an amazing turn-out of volunteers, and were able to add three new sites we’ve never done before,” says Shawn White, Friends' Project Manager and clean-up organizer. “I’m hoping next year we’ll have even more people participate. There’s still more trash out there we weren’t able to retrieve and, unfortunately, there’s always more added every year." 

In 1998, the Friends began coordinating annual river clean-ups focused where the four rivers of the Winooski River, the North Branch, the Stevens Branch and the Dog River converge in the Barre-Montpeiler area. This effort had been ongoing thanks to Bill Haines, now retired science teacher at Montpelier High School. MHS will continue their long tradition of Winooski River clean-ups this Friday. 

Much of the junk metal gathered by volunteers was transported to MHS where students will turn it into sculptures that show off their creativity and make a statement. Th ese works of art will be on public display in front of the high school until September 22nd. Also on the high school grounds, the Friends will hold a Volunteer Appreciation event for all of our volunteers on Monday, September 19th at 5pm. 

Julie Moore of Stone Environmental led a group of Stone staff this year. "Participating in the Friends' annual river clean-up provides Stone staff an opportunity to give back, directly, to the river that so much of our work is intended to help protect and restore,” says Moore. “I am always struck by the number of tires we are able to pull from the 1/2-mile stretch of the Winooski between Granite Street and Main Street. This year was no exception, pulling nearly three dozen tires.” 

In one particular reach of the river off of Old Country Club Road—just above and below the dam—volunteers worked arduously to liberate four large, water-logged tractor wheels from the rocky current. They were successful in pulling them out of the water. However, more support and tools are needed to pull them from the banks to the road in order for them to be hauled away and kept out of the river forever. 

We're asking you for help. Are you a business or individual in the Barre-Montpelier area capable of removing these wheels from the river corridor? Help us save the Winooski from giant tires! Please contact the Friends at 802-882-8276 or The Friends would like to thank Tom Moore of T&T Trucking for volunteering his time and his truck to haul away tires. 

"The river upstream of Pioneer Street Bridge where we spent the morning is pretty depressing—a testament to the damage humans have done for many years,” says volunteer John Snell. “It was depressing and, at the same time, educational. We know rivers can rejuvenate quickly if we just stop damaging them. Even with all the trash, the Winooski is a treasure right in our back yard."

Of course, the overall purpose of the clean-up is not to feel worse about the state of the river. “While we pulled out a hundreds of pounds of scrap metal and tires, it was pretty clear that most of that trash had been there for a long time,” says Anne Watson, who led a crew near the confluence of the Winooski and the Stevens Branch. “There was a distinct lack of what I would call 'modern' waste; there were almost no cans or bottles or plastic debris. I found that very encouraging.” 

Volunteers on the River Road stretch in Middlesex found joy in spotting abundant and diverse organisms as well as interesting trash items. “We found bits and pieces of an antique woodstove, pottery dated from the early 1800's, antique glass bottles with 'Montpelier' etched at the base, an old boot, car parts, and assorted odd mangled up pieces of metal,” says Lee Rosberg, site leader for the Middlesex group. 

The river clean-up was part of two greater efforts this month, one being the Friends' Four Rivers Fund Campaign to raise awareness and funds for their great work in the Barre-Montpelier area. The Fund supports restoration and protection projects, education programs, and water quality monitoring. The Friends engage residents and landowners to be stewards of the Winooski River and its watershed. For a list of their remaining events this month, please visit their website at

The clean-up was also part of Vermont's River Clean-up Month. Efforts around the state are being coordinated by Watersheds United Vermont, a network of over 30 local watershed groups. Visit to volunteer at a river cleanup or to find resources to organize your own event. 

The Friends would like to thank all of our contributors and volunteers! With your help, we are protecting water quality and raising awareness about important issues in the Winooski River Watershed. If you haven't yet contributed to our fund, please consider making a donation using the following link to support future projects and events like the clean-up.

Friends of the Winooski River is a non-profit dedicated to the restoration and protection of the Winooski River and its tributaries. We work throughout the 1,080 square mile watershed to protect habitat, stabilize stream banks and improve water quality. We are also committed to providing people with access and opportunities to enjoy the river. To learn more about our work visit

Source: Friends of the Winooski River 9.13.2016