Northern RI readies to ZAP the Blackstone as groups sign on for massive August cleanup

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Northern RI – It was the largest cleanup of its kind when it took place 50 years ago and soon, it will happen again, with hundreds of volunteers from Burrillville, North Smithfield and Glocester doing their part.

The Great 2022 Blackstone River Revival Project ZAP 50 will take place on Saturday, August 27, and organizers hope to make it the biggest clean up/green up event since the original ZAP in 1972. At the time, the Blackstone River was known as one of the most polluted and abused waterways in the United States.

On Sept. 9, 1972, 10,000 locals descended on the river, removing tons of litter that included appliances, furniture and even vehicles from its banks – a date marking the largest one-day regional environmental clean-up in American history.

In 2022, the river itself is in somewhat better shape, and the focus has extended to the entire watershed, which features streams and brooks through 25 communities, including Pawtucket, Burrillville and neighboring Massachusetts. Participants are invited to ZAP – or Zero Away Pollution – in their own neighborhood, or sign on to help out with a listed site where the need for trash removal has been identified.

“Today we understand the river and our surrounding waterways are influenced by behaviors not just along the banks, but anywhere in the Blackstone Watershed,” the event website notes.

Donna Kaehler, director of Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful, is in charge of coordinating Rhode Island’s volunteers, and is working with Michelle Keech of the Glocester Business Association, along with Town Clerk Jean Fecteau.

In Burrillville, Trash & Recycling Coordinator Andrea Hall has helped to ensure town residents will do their part, promoting the event as a second cleanup following the annual litter pickup that takes place every Earth Day. Hall included a flyer for ZAP with Earth Day materials, and many in town have already registered to participate.

North Smithfield groups have also signed on, including businesses, organizations and families, with the help of that town’s longtime Clean & Green Day organizer, who also works for the Department of Public Works, Scott Hawes.

All three towns are listed among the ZAP50 partners and have passed resolutions in support of the event.

“The town of North Smithfield commits its leadership, necessary leadership and participation to assist in mobilizing its citizens to turn out to join the 50th anniversary of Operation ZAP” notes the resolution from that community, passed in January. “We call upon all to honor the work performed in 1972, honor the groups and agencies for the past and current ongoing efforts and ensure that the Operation ZAP of 1972 goals are realized.”

“It is time to be part of this environmental movement, this time Blackstone River Watershed-wide, to clean and green up the 25 Blackstone River Watershed communities from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island,” notes the Burrillville resolution, signed by Town Council President Donald Fox.

With the mission of exceeding the 10,000 participants who took part in the 1972 clean up, registration is key, even for those just planning to clean roads in their own neighborhood. The ZAP mantra, “Join & Be Counted – One Day – One Movement,” seeks to organize and inspire those who care about the environment from across the Blackstone Valley.

At the event website, Zaptheblackstone.com, volunteers can sign on to clean a listed area, request a location in their own town, or register a specific area they plan to target.

A massive worksheet on the website lists five areas already identified in Burrillville, along with their level of difficulty. The list includes Chapel Street, where an estimated 4-6 people are needed to pull bikes from the river under the bridge at Main Street, and East Avenue where 8-10 volunteers can target a long, litter-ridden stretch of roadway.

In North Smithfield, 48 areas have been identified, with hopes that hundreds of residents will still sign on. A group of 15 volunteers is needed for one difficult area of Canal Street, from St. Paul to Singleton, where a busy road features the additional obstacle of poison ivy. A spot for Slatersville fishing access is listed as an easy spot, where a scouting group or individual might conquer the parking area.

Some sites are being organized by a specific individual, company or organization, but need additional volunteer support, while other locations are listed as already adopted.

“We need lots of eyes in our communities’ identifying locations, and lots of people willing to lead a group of volunteers,” noted a release from the ZAP 50 Steering Team. “Our vision is to see lots of groups out on our streets, doing litter cleanups and projects that make our hometowns cleaner and greener and we want everyone to get involved.”

The site features a countdown to the massive event – 31 days, four hours and 45 minutes from this writing, for those who enjoy specifics.

A celebration has been scheduled following the clean up and closer to the official ZAP anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 10 that will mirror the party held for volunteers in 1972, featuring music and more.

“As residents, municipalities, and business owners, know we can get more accomplished when we have extra hands, so now is our opportunity to have these willing volunteers join you,” notes the release.

Additional information on the family friendly, free event can be found at ZaptheBlackstone.com, or by contacting Donna Kaehler at (401) 724-2200.

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