MANCHESTER -- A long-running Vermont tradition seems to have been saved - at least for now. Earlier this year reports surfaced that Green Up Day -- a day in which volunteers throughout the state help remove litter from roadways in their communities - might come to an end.
After word spread that Green Up Day 2015 would be the last one due to financial struggles, local organizations stepped in.
Green Up Vermont, the non-profit group that sponsors the event, has recently received the funding necessary to continue the event past this year's activities on Saturday, May 3.
"Green Mountain Power stepped up and committed to give a significant amount each year for the next three years, as what they are calling a signature corporate sponsor," said Melinda Vieux, president of Green Up Vermont.
Green Up Vermont has also picked up some new sponsors. The Vermont Coffee Company and six more new organizations have become entry-level sponsors, contributing between $1,000 and $3,000 a year.
Green Up Vermont began experiencing financial difficulties in part because three of its biggest sponsors -- Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry's and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters -- recently suspended their annual gifts. Those three grants had accounted for 20 percent of Green Up Vermont's $120,000 budget.
The state Legislature appropriates 14 percent of Green Up Vermont's budget, and another 18 percent comes from cities and towns throughout the state. Vieux said the organization went before the Legislature earlier this month to request an increase in funding, so the day could continue.
Green Up Day -- created by Vermont Gov. Deane Davis and first held on April 18, 1970 -- has benefits beyond the removal of litter from highways and roads, according to Head of Maple Street School Fran Bisselle. She said that while the school does not hold special activities for Green Up Day, she knows at least 25 to 30 percent of her students join in the event within their communities.
"We have kids that come from 17, 18 different towns across Vermont, and so we encourage them to get out there and do it," Bisselle said. "We talk about it certainly, and that's a big part of our Courage to Care program."
The program, she said, is a character education program that focuses, in part, on environmental stewardship and being good citizens.
"You learn a lot about the environment, whether it's in science class or what to do and [how to] be good citizens in school, but to have the opportunity to see it in action, and also see your neighbors in action doing this, I think really is what it means to a Vermonter," said Bisselle. "It's what it means to be in a community. It's what it means to be a good citizen. So, I think it's really important."
Green Up Vermont has two part-time employees, who provide all the supplies, which includes more than 46,000 green trash bags and help promote and coordinate the event, according to an article by The Valley News on Green Up Vermont's website.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation helps during Green Up Day, collecting trash from 2,700 miles of roadway along the state highways. That leaves about 13,100 miles of roadway to be cleaned by volunteers in communities throughout the state.
Last year, volunteers removed about 200 tons of litter from the side of the road state wide with the help of about 19,000 volunteers, Vieux said.
To continue the event, Green Up Vermont needs $25,000 to $50,000 annually, according to The Valley News article.
Along with asking the state for an increase in funding, Vieux also has asked the Legislature to include Green Up Vermont as a donation item on the Vermont Income Tax form -- something she believes could significantly help the organization get the funding needed to continue Green Up Day in perpetuity.
"That one I see in particular as key to the long-range sustainability of Green Up Day," said Vieux. "I would be very glad if we would get $20,000 annually, and we could get more."
Now the Nongame Wildlife Fund, Children's Trust Fund and Veterans' Fund are the organizations included on the income tax form. The Wildlife Fund and Children's Trust Fund have been on the form the longest and are currently receiving about $70,000 to $80,000 annually.
The Veterans' Fund, which was included around 2010 to 2011, received about $44,000 in its first year and is up to about $50,000 now, Vieux said.
A bill to have Green Up Day included on the tax checkoff began in the House of Representatives, where Vieux said it received overwhelming support with more than 50 sponsors. The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate Finance Committee, Vieux said in an interview on Tuesday. However, the bill will still need to be approved by the Senate to be placed on the state income tax form.
If approved, the bill might help Vermonters keep their fields and roadways clean, one step at a time.