MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont works hard to maintain its image as a picture postcard state complete with no billboards, and nothing exemplifies that effort more than Green Up Day.
Held on the first Saturday in May, Green Up Day brings tens of thousands of volunteers out to pick up litter from roadsides and public spaces. It's a Vermont tradition that dates back years.
Gov. Deane Davis started it in 1970, shutting down the interstate so volunteers could clear it of litter. Now more than 22,000 people volunteer each year, cleaning up town roadsides, public spaces and waterways in their own communities.
Last year, 300 tons of trash and more than 5,000 tires were collected.
"People really care, and it does make a difference," said Peg Martin, Green Up Day organizer in Middlebury.
Steve Drebber of Woodstock, Vermont, took part in the first Green Up Day in 1970 as a cub scout. He's featured in a photograph with Davis and other scouts on that day. Since then, he said he's participated with his own children to teach them the importance of service.
"I think a lot of people in other states are fairly impressed that A). no billboards and B). that the state's population goes out and takes care of the roads, too, besides just the state road crew," he said.
Other states take part in Adopt-a-Highway or Sponsor-a-Highway programs in which volunteers keep part of a highway litter-free. Oklahoma cleans up with its annual Trash-OFF each spring and, in Arkansas, thousands of volunteers pick up trash off roadways, shorelines, parks and public spaces during the Great Arkansas Cleanup each fall.
In Vermont, the Agency of Transportation crews clean up the 2,700 miles of state interstates and highways.
On Green Up Day, volunteers clean up roads and public spaces in their own communities. The nonprofit Green Up Vermont gives out trash bags for the effort.
Years after moving away, Green Up Day stuck with Jeff Nicklas, of Richmond, Virginia. The power and fun of a community working together and volunteering for efforts that benefit the common good were two things he said he took away from the experiences.
"Those things have stuck with me and influenced my life all these years," he said in an email to Green Up Vermont.