On Saturday, May 31, the town of Keene held its first Clean Keene Day. The turnout was modest, but no one was complaining as the amount of trash collected belied the number of bodies but not the energy and heart of those participating.
The roots of this effort go back to two events, Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which left a lot of trash in woods along the East Branch of the Ausable River, and a tribute to Homer Boutte, who died at a young age and is memorialized by a park created and maintained by Keene Central students in his honor.
A sizeable amount of Irene's residue has been pulled from the riverbanks, especially from Keene to Upper Jay, which was followed up by a major volunteer effort to restore and strengthen the banks of the river along Rivermede Farm. More than 50 people came out last summer planting several thousand tree seedlings while river restoration, bank stabilization, the rebuilding of fish habitat and creation of a small swimming hole was accomplished by Trout Unlimited and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The Ausable River Association led the planting project and was a lead participant in the Keene-to-Jay river cleanup. Left to accomplish was cleaning debris from St. Huberts to Keene, which was one of the targets for Saturday.
Alice Boutte gives her group of teens their assignments Saturday, May 31 during the first Clean Keene Day. (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
Point Park, where Johns Brook and the Ausable meet, also needed restoration work and modifications to make it more accessible so all can enjoy it, especially the residents of the Neighborhood House. The dynamic duo leading the overall effort was Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee and Marie McMahon, who heads up the Town of Keene Business Association, along with Joe Pete Wilson Jr., who was active in the planning but pulled away on cleanup day for a memorial service for his aunt, Marge Lamy. Several local businesses donated water, trail mix and lunch for the hearty team who ate very well at the Holt House in Marcy Field.
"We have two goals here today, one of which is an ongoing program that started with the development of a small park in the middle of Keene Valley called Point Park in memory of Homer Boutte, a high school student who unfortunately passed away early," Ferebee said Saturday morning as the volunteers were arriving at Rivermede Park. "Every year, the high school students spruce up the park and put in some fresh plantings with the help of Marcy Neville, who was a leader in designing the park. This year, after they finish over there, they will come to Rivermede Park, clean it, and do some plantings as well."
"A full river and highway cleanup from St. Huberts to Keene will be led by Marie McMahon and a couple dozen volunteers without whom we couldn't pull off all of this today," continued Ferebee. "We are focusing on any metal, plastic and other items that may have been washed downstream from one property owner to the next, as well as roadside cleanup. We are going to bag it and put it along the roadside so the Keene Highway Department can collect it on Monday."
"We have been working on Point Park since it was developed about 10 years ago," said Neville. "It was planned as a community service event where mentees and local kids, citizens, residents, really whoever wanted to come for a day or half-day to do park cleanup, planting or whatever needed to be done. It has grown every year. We have always had a lot of enthusiasm for the event. The town always provides a good lunch, and it's just a fun day for kids to do stuff. They get to play in the river, plant things, and they get to see how it grows and changes from year to year. It started with a lot of kids who knew Homer from his high school class and 10 years later, this kid knew those kids."
"Today is the first time we have had a joint effort between the community, Keene Central School, the Business Association and the town," said MacMahon. "The main objective is to clean Keene before the coming tourist season. The Keene Central students will be cleaning yards of senior citizens along with working in Rivermede and Point Parks. The rest of us will be working mostly along Route 73 and the river, and then we plan to celebrate and have lunch."
There was a lot of junk. Between Keene and the top of Route 73 near the graveyard, Peg Wilson and I filled a good half dozen large bags with beer cans, water bottles, snuff cans, food wrappers and potato chip-type bags. We also found a lot of banana peels, invasive fruit you might say. Others had similar experiences.
"I found a lot of Stewart's and McDonald's cups, Budweiser cans, and plastic bottles with tobacco juice in it," said Liz Jacques. "I also found small power shot bottles. Which direction did you find what stuff?"
"I found way more cigarette butts on the west side, the traffic going south side," I said.
"I also found way more power shots going south side," said Liz. "I think they are heading home to Jersey. It's a five-hour drive, and they need the energy."
"I think it's been a great day," said Ferebee later at the Holt House. "A lot of debris was picked up. There are already a large number of bags along the highway, and we still have crews out. I expect to see it grow next year. I think the people who attended today will tell their neighbors and friends. I think it was a great effort to help clean up our town. It brings people together and it's a good example of the benefits of community involvement. I am already looking forward to next year."
"I am inspired, of course," said Alice Boutte. "It is always meaningful for me. I love seeing all the kids out. They did a great job on the parks opening the walkways so they can be wheelchair accessible. They planted, they mulched, and they cleaned eight yards."
"I think we did a fantastic job," said McMahon. "Everyone worked really well together and we got the entire 73 corridor within the town of Keene cleaned. Everybody was really motived, enthusiastic, and had fun. It was a really successful day. All the food was donated by local businesses, which we are so grateful for, and everybody is already talking about doing it next year. We even had people driving past us, tooting their horns, stopping and thanking us for cleaning up, which was really nice."