Anniversaries are certainly a cause for celebration and this particular one is worth noting.
But what would be the appropriate gift for Nantucket to give Bill and his crew?
The traditional paper gift for year one wouldn’t work. The last thing Bill needs is more discarded paper.
Year five and wood? Bill and his crew have hauled away enough half-charred wood pallets from various Nantucket beaches to build a house.
How about year 10 and something tin or aluminum? No chance. They have picked up enough discarded cans to start their own recycling plant.
Year 17 and furniture? No thanks - Bill’s crew have removed enough abandoned furniture and appliances to reboot Marine Home Center’s Appliance Department.
This past week, it was the 20th anniversary of Bill Connell and the “Clean Team” and all Bill wants is “for everyone to have some pride and take the time to pick up some trash, debris and litter around Nantucket”.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Every Saturday morning from Daffodil Weekend through November
1st, Bill Connell organizes the Clean Team volunteers to pick up trash, debris
and litter that scars the roadsides, moors, beaches and State Forrest of
Nantucket. In their traditional bright green t-shirts, a dedicated group
assemble at two, pre-arranged locations. And armed with plastic bags, they
routinely pick up an average of between five to six tons of debris over the course
of roughly 25 Saturday’s each season.
I am no Mensa; but if my math is correct, that works out to over 100 tons of trash that has been collected and removed from our “backyards” and properly disposed of at the Landfill by the Clean Team over the past 20 years.
“This should be a total community effort”, said Bill who splits time between California in the winter and North Pasture Lane off Polpis Road in the summer.
Bill went on, “I’d like to see us follow the model that Prince Edward Island uses. Everyone takes pride there and it is a total community effort to keep the island litter free. Everyone buys in starting at a young age; and if you have ever travelled to P.E.I., you know what I mean”.
I had to ask: “With so many ‘traditional’ opportunities to volunteer on Nantucket why trash and what got you started?”
“Well, I guess you need to thank Bob Griffin who used to live in Monomoy…”
Bill continued, “He was a good friend and an investment banker. As I would walked around picking up trash on Saturday mornings, Bob would drive by me on his way to the dump. He kept telling me: ‘You need to leverage yourself if you want to get more people to help and a larger neighborhood response’. So, I took his advice and tried to get the word out. Ultimately, I promoted an initial Clean Team meeting to pick up trash one Saturday morning in 2004 and I got four people to show up at the corner of Nobadeer Farm Road and Milestone Road”.
Bill chuckled: “It wasn’t an overwhelming response, but it was a start. Today, I am proud to say that we have 495 registered volunteers; and for that, I am very thankful”.
Once reved up, it was hard to slow Bill down. His infectious enthusiasm for something as mundane as picking up discarded litter and debris - something that is generally taken for granted by locals and visitors alike - had me picturing in my head what 100 tons of trash, litter & debris actually looks like when you build that mountain wrapper by wrapper - bottle by bottle - tin can by tin can.
“We have so many hard workers and volunteers. It would be impossible to list them all. However, I’d like to mention my ‘Coordinators’: Anne Dewez, Deb VanDyke, Mitch Karlin, Valetina Booth and Adam Dread who have been just tremendous. They help coordinate the volunteers and work out a rotating schedule with me of different locations around the island that we address each week throughout the season."
Following that thought, “What areas do you regularly see the most discarded trash and debris?" I asked.
“Old South Road is the worst from the airport to the rotary and that’s unfortunate because so many visitors come to Nantucket via the airport and one of the first things they see is trash scattered along the road," Bill answered with some annoyance.
He continued: “The State Forest off Lover’s Lane comes in second. It is scary what we routinely pick up out there. In third place, and I guess it stands to reason, is Madaket Road. I don’t believe it is deliberate but so much trash and debris just blows out of the back of the trucks as one gets closer to the landfill."
Bill conceded that his efforts do have some limitation but there’s always a silver lining.
For example, “Not everyone can join us on Saturday mornings” Bill acknowledged. “But, if you could just walk outside your house, shop or business location and walk down 100 yards in either direction and pick up some trash, you’d be an ‘Ad-Junk’ member of our team”.
For a moment, I sensed Bill gets occasionally frustrated with the response he gets from around the island. He wished more business owners, shop keepers and even the Chamber of Commerce would jump on board “more enthusiastically” especially when dealing with the appearance of the downtown core district.
He hoped more of the neighborhood associations and street coalitions would rally to support his efforts especially as his Clean Team members clean up right in front of people’s houses.
But, as Bill put it, “Picking up other people’s trash is really not that special; but keep in mind, Nantucket is…”
Bill continued, “We function once a week but trash accumulates every day. I just wish I could persuade more people to come out and help because we can always use the support”.
There’s a lot of “pre-game” planning and organization that goes into each Saturday morning. Prior to each weekend, Bill and his “Coordinators” map out their strategy and announce it via local radio 97.7 thanks to Marine Home Center who underwrites this expense. From there, the team coordinates with the D.P.W. who have generously supported the Clean Team’s efforts over the years as they synchronize pick ups around the island.
Outside of that, “It’s just a dedicated group of volunteers who are looking to make a difference around the island. There’s nothing glamorous about it”, Bill finished up.
Looking ahead to next year and the Clean Team’s 21st season, I know we can surpass over 500 registered volunteers. Moreover, a supportive light honk on the horn as you drive down Milestone Road or Old South Road some Saturday morning in July or August next summer and see the Clean Team in action would certainly boost morale. Outside of jumping on board - even if it’s for just one Saturday morning next season - that’s the least we can do.
That should be our gift because from Nantucket’s perspective, Bill and the Clean Team’s present to us has been a gift that keeps on giving.