Burrillville Earth Day clean up includes massive river effort, duckling rescue by BHS students

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BURRILLVILLE – A two-week-long town clean up in honor of Earth Day has brought out an impressive 270 volunteers in 2022, including 22 Burrillville High School students, who targeted the area by the Bridgeway in Pascoag and filled two dumpster with collected litter.

“The group cleaned from the Bridgeway to the waterfall behind the old Parks and Recreation building,”said Recreation Director & Recycling Coordinator Andrea Hall.

The BHS group, led by teachers Gregory Rowe and Aimee Deely, was comprised of students from Environmental Science II and AP classes. Aiding in the effort were Burrillville resident Bob Charpentier, who has long helped Hall with the town’s anti-litter efforts and suggested the location. Charpentier took the day out of work and joined the effort, along with John Marsland of the Blackstone River Watershed Council and Bonnie Coombs of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor.

Hall was impressed with the group’s contribution.

“Earth Day clean ups are always exciting, but this was phenomenal and was extremely refreshing to witness,” she said. “Seeing high school kids enthusiastic to help, laughing and smiling, wading into the river on a cold, windy day dragging out box springs, tires and all sorts of stuff instead of being bent over their phones.”

Supt. Michael Sollitto agreed, noting that a baby duckling was even rescued from being caught in some trash.

“Too often, our high school kids get cast in a negative light, but this type of event just highlights that we truly have great kids,” Sollitto said.

Student Zachary Cayer wrote about the rescue in a story titled, “The Fallen Duckling.”

“This poor duckling had been separated from his family and would not survive on his own,” Cayer wrote. “I scooped up my new found friend, and started to hustle up the river to try, and find mama duck.”

Cayer wrote that after an extended search he found the flock on the other side of the river.

“I saw a fallen tree that I could walk on to make my way towards the center but I knew if I fell it was gonna be a fun ride home,” he wrote. “For my little friend though it was worth it though so I started my crawl.”

Hovering over ice cold water on the remains of a rotted tree, Cayer eventually returned the duckling to the flock.

“Even though my time with my small companion at come to an end seeing the flock reunited was a priceless sight,” he wrote.  

Hall said that by the time the students were finished with the clean up, the pile of litter was so large that the Department of Public Works had to clamshell it with the backhoe to remove it. 

“The total amount removed from the river filled two dump trucks,” she said.

It’s just one impressive contribution to a successful Earth Day celebration that’s seen hundreds of volunteers canvassing that street for the past two weeks in hopes to make the town green and litter-free. Students with the Burrillville Prevention Action Commission held several clean ups over the past few weeks, and Town Council President Donald Fox organized one event that focused on Tarkiln Road. Dozens of families, scouting troops and volunteers have picked up liter independently, and recently, members of the Burrillville Conservation Commission planted a tree at the park by the Burrillville Police Department to honor the event.

Jax and Kayla Houle plant a tree with Ron Lapierre, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission.

Hall noted seeing so many young people contribute this year was something special.

“I am proud to have been able to help coordinate this and wish I had the time to help them. Both Mr. Rowe and Ms. Deely should be commended for their efforts to help Keep Burrillville Beautiful and to
get kids outside in the fresh air,” Hall said. “Absolutely amazing.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Jaycie Columbo wrote about saving the duckling. Cayer was the student involved in the rescue. We apologize for the error.

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