Environmentalists scour Housatonic River's west branch for garbage

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PITTSFIELD >> Braving the elements, a team of roughly 20 stalwart environmentalists spent Saturday morning pulling "literally tons" of garbage out of the west branch of the Housatonic River, breaking up just as lightening started to crack.

The cleaners said they saw blue heron and deer as they went about their work, in the area between Wahconah Park south to Columbus Avenue.

"A lot of the stuff we pull out of there I question whether it should be in the trash or in a museum," Elia Del Molina, one of the participants who donned a slicker for Saturday's work. "We've got a dedicated group of volunteers that keeps coming back year after year."

Oddities fished out of the waters Saturday included a car door, three bicycles, a leg cast and "a very creepy doll," Del Molina said.

He added, "We're seasoned vets; we really know what we're doing. Despite the weather, we did a tremendous job out there today."

A member of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Del Molina said volunteers are what make the organization "tick." Regular river cleanups in downtown Pittsfield, ongoing for years, have led to a cleaner river, better for the rare and valuable species of plants and animals present there.

Loads of rusty metal, car tires and plastic were pulled out of the river during the cleanup as well. The volunteers worked from 9 a.m. to a little after 11 a.m., when a lightning storm began.

"I've done this for six years now, and it really is very much improved," Alison Dixon, Berkshire outreach manager of the Housatonic Valley Association, said. "It's always a feel-good exercise to get back there and see it looking better than last time, with smaller debris and less of it."

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, also took time out of her schedule to join the cleaners.

HVA organizes two cleanups of the river's west branch per year, and this year received a small contribution from the city's Conservation Commission to assist their efforts.

Dixon said the area behind Wahconah Park is a "wonderful wetland" rich in waterfowl, hawks, snapping turtles, beavers where "you don't see anybody and hardly know you're in the city of Pittsfield."

In the Housatonic watershed, one can find 51 species of animals and 110 species of plants protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

The state designated the 13-mile corridor of the river from southern Pittsfield to northern Lee an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 2009 and portions of this area also fall under Massachusetts Audubon Society's Important Bird Area designation. The Upper Housatonic Valley also holds federal distinction as a National Heritage Area.

The next HVA Housatonic cleanup will take place from 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 6.


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