Cleaning up the Valley

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Hopewell Townshp to take over managing Clean Communities Day from Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space

With gloves on and bags in hand, people of all ages for decades have been cleaning up trash throughout Hopewell Valley as part of Clean Communities Day.

This year was no different as students, volunteers from local organizations, and individuals in orange vests went to parks, schools, roadways and public places in Hopewell Township to clean those areas of trash on April 15.

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“If you think about it Clean Communities is just cleaning up, which probably is the very first thing that any individual is going to do to steward our lands. That is going to make our lands beautiful for the next generation,” said Lisa Wolff, executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space [FoHVOS].

Clean Communities Day, a semi-annual event, first began in Hopewell Valley in 1991 with funding from the state to Hopewell Township.

The day has been managed from the beginning by FoHVOS and they provide gloves, bags, and other items for people participating to use.

“Back when [the cleanups] started this in the 1990s, trash abatement did not have the visibility it has today. Now we are totally understanding the importance of trash abatement to our Earth,” Wolff added.

After April’s Clean Communities Day, FoHVOS will no longer manage the day. Hopewell Township is now going to take over administering the program.

“The Township decided the time was right to transition the program to full township management,” Mayor Michael Ruger said. “We truly appreciate FoHVOS’ work on Clean Communities over the years and look forward to working with Pennington and Hopewell boroughs in the years to come.”

The program’s implementation in the 1990s was led by the late Ted Stiles, who had served as president of FoHVOS and is one of the organization’s original founders.

“Ted’s main reason for wanting us to be involved was because he felt it was really important to involve young people in the conservation of our lands at an early age,” Wolff said. “Because they are ones that are going to need to take care of lands in the future.”

Clean Communities is a statewide program created by the passage of the Clean Communities Act in 1986 to tackle litter.

According to the program, the Act provides funding by placing a tax on fifteen categories of businesses that may produce litter generating products and provides guidelines on the use of those funds.

The program generates about $20 million annually, which is then spread to state parks, counties and municipalities. Municipalities receive 80% of those funds, while counties and state parks each receive 10%.

Through the years, FoHVOS would assign areas for cleanup in Hopewell Township, Pennington, and Hopewell Borough. The organization used a lot of borough spaces for some of its youngest cleaners.

“This year it was tailored down and only in Hopewell Township,” Wolff said.

According to Wolff, since 1991, the FoHVOS managed Clean Communities program has donated more than $100,000 to local charities, school clubs and nonprofits, enlisted thousands of volunteers and removed more than 25 tons of trash from Hopewell Valley neighborhoods.

“Taking care of the Earth is everyone’s responsibility and what I liked so much about this program,” she said. “The program not only keeps the Valley sparkling clean and not only instills really good value to our youth, but also supports organizations that are doing good work.”

The day does not just see children and youth participate, but also other individuals such as senior citizens.

“The program is available to anyone who wants to get involved. Anybody is allowed to track their hours,” Wolff said. “For every hour they work we donate money to a charity service organization and nonprofit of their choice.”

Beth Craighead, Clean Communities coordinator and senior land steward for FoHVOS, has prepped for the day by renting dumpsters due to the sheer volume of trash collected for Clean Communities.

“The dumpster located on the township property is not enough to hold everything that people are going to bring in. Not only are we amazed at the sheer volume, but one of the fun things all of the groups do is comment on what they found in the trash,” Wolff said.

Over the years, they have found couches, tires, all different types of furniture, even a handwritten novel.

One of the things the young groups unfortunately find are a lot of liquor bottles near parks or schools.

“The youth understand what they are bringing in and never know what they are going to find,” Wolff said.

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