The Waitsfield Select Board had high praise for the stewardMRV initiative which started this summer and led to regular trash pickup at local recreational access points, but also helped foster an ethos of stewardship among community volunteers, local recreators and visits alike.
Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, discussed this year’s initiative and plans for next year at a November 22 meeting of the Waitsfield Select Board.
He explained that the genesis of the project was a visit he and his wife made to Blueberry Lake in the summer of 2020 when they were “appalled at how dirty it was.”
He discussed the problem with others and did some planning, lobbying, fundraising and coordinating.
“It dawned on me that if we’re going to do something, we need to do it collectively,” he said.
He brought several local organizations together in the effort: Friends of the Mad River, Mad River Path, the Mad River Valley Planning District, the Mad River Riders, the Mad River Trails Collaborative and the Mad River Recreation District. He allocated $10,000 in chamber funds, secured $10,000 from Bournes, $10,000 from Lawson’s Finest, plus $1,500 from the Mad River Valley Rotary.
He hired a college intern as coordinator for the summer and The Valley’s main recreational access points were identified and assessed.
“People come here for outdoor recreation and if those access points look like crap, it looks like crap for our community and shows us in a bad light. If you take care of something, people will respect that. We found that the biggest issues were trash and restrooms,” he said.
The project was complicated by the fact that there is no single owner of the recreation access points. Some are municipal, some are forest service and some are privately owned.
Ultimately stewardMRV was able to get port-o-let and trash/recycling enclosures built for Bridge Street and the Lareau swim hole. A & J Recycling and Trash was hired to collect garbage and recycling at each of the 16 sites three times a week. Community volunteers stepped up and began collecting garbage at sites, leaving the bags for A & J to collect.
“There was one guy who volunteered to pick up Warren Falls and did it twice a week, in addition to the USFS ranger who did it twice a week. A & J came three times a week and quite frankly, it was not enough,’ Friedman said.
“The first year went really well. Places looked better, there was good energy and people were taking care of things. I really want to impress on you folks that the town benefits from this,” he added.
He said stewardMRV learned a lot from the first year and wants to go further next year. Specifically, he said the efforts need to loop in the local conservation commissions which manage each town’s public lands.
Friedman committed $10,000 from chamber members and said he is asking each town to allocated $5,000-$7,500 in the coming year’s budget.
Waitsfield Select Board chair Christine Sullivan noted that that amount is well within the town’s park’s budgets and said it was good to know the program would be in place next summer.
“That’s great to hear. I can’t go find a Lawson’s or Bournes to give us $10,000 every year. This is long term and it should just be done. To develop that ethos, that’s the thing, to get kids involved. We want to take care of our recreation access points. That’s our stock in trade,” Friedman added.
Board member Brian Shupe praised the project and the final report which Friedman submitted to the board. (Read that report here: http://www.waitsfieldvt.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/11.22.21-Meeting-Packet.pdf.)