Tropical Storm Irene Recovery Effort
UVM’s Cleaning Crew One of State’s Largest
University musters 80 volunteers for “Clean Up Day”
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
At first glance, Peavine Park in Bethel, Vt. looks like it escaped Tropical Storm Irene unscathed. A few stray branches litter the park, and piles of leaves are clumped here and there.
Look closer and the evidence of devastation is clear: a park bench peaks at passersby from a hole in the ground; a large branch is balanced near the peak of a gazebo’s roof.
At the height of the flooding, a tributary of the White River that borders the park rose so high over its banks, it was able to strand the branch on its unlikely perch. When the floodwaters receded, the fine silt they carried settled in the park, leaving a deposit of clay-like mud three- and four-feet deep.
Last Saturday morning about thirty UVM volunteers showed up to help restore Peavine Park to the town jewel it was once was, part of a contingent of about 80 UVMers – and more than 1,000 Vermonters from around the state – summoned by Governor Peter Shumlin to assist people and communities affected by Irene on a day the governor designated as Clean Up Day.
UVM volunteers also worked at the Riverside Mobile Home Park in West Woodstock and at two homes and alongside a littered riverbank in Rochester.
Most of the volunteers at Peavine Park were students, but faculty and staff also participated. They spent the day shoveling out the base and surface roots of trees choked with mud, excavating posts that ringed a parking lot and raking leaves.
Once the fine work of freeing the trees from mud and outlining the parking lot is completed – the bench and gazebo were dug out earlier – heavy equipment will be brought in to do the brute labor of digging up and carting off the stretches of muck that cover the park grounds.
“Everyone’s needs have been so primary, Peavine Park has not been a priority,” said Lisa Campbell, a pre-school special education teacher who lives in neighboring Randolph who was the event coordinator for the town of Bethel. “But it’s such a sentimental favorite. This is where people have their graduation parties; they walk their dogs and launch their boats here. We need to take care of it. The response has been overwhelming; I’m humbled and grateful.”
For Corey Wilga, a first-year student from Northampton, Mass., the trip was a chance to come up for air after weeks of studying and to make a contribution to an important cause. “I wanted to do something different and really help the community," she said. "It’s hard
to believe this was a park. I’m really glad to have this task.”
Much of the organizing and logistics for UVM’s Clean Up Day activities were done by senior anthropology major Danielle Jenkins, a Hingham, Mass. native, in her role as outreach coordinator for Irene relief, a professional position created by the UVM administration several weeks ago. Jenkins will serve through the rest of semester before graduating in December.
Betsy Ide, who coordinated statewide Irene clean-up efforts for the governor, was thrilled to have three large battalions of UVMers to assign to the biggest jobs that had surfaced on the Clean Up Day website. She suggested the three locations and said in an email she found UVM’s response “inspiring.”
To recruit volunteers in the brief time between the governor’s Clean Up Day announcement and the event itself – a little more than a week – Jenkins oversaw campus-wide email blasts and reached out directly to student clubs and faculty and staff organizations.
“I was really impressed at how many people expressed interest on such short notice,” Jenkins said. “We are an involved campus, and people had a lot going on. It was great.”
Volunteer of honor
After lunch Peavine Park got a visit from an special volunteer, Governor Shumlin himself. Shumlin was barnstorming Clean Up Day sites, accompanied by news media. Getting the word out that Vermonters had showed up for Clean Up Day in force – and that volunteers deserved credit for their community spirit – was clearly a priority for the governor. But so was rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.
Shumlin, dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt, and a outdoorsman’s black vest, hadn’t shown up empty handed. After chatting amiably with volunteers and another VIP – Congressman Peter Welch, who was also there to help with about eight of his staff – the governor fired up a chainsaw and got to work cutting down hanging branches and sectioning fallen trees.
After 45 minutes of methodical labor, Shumlin cut off the chain saw – to the relief of the state police officer shadowing him uneasily -- and was ready for the next stop.
Shumlin was impressed by UVM’s commitment to Clean Up Day.
“It’s been extraordinary,” he said. “Every stop I’ve made there have been eager, strong UVM students giving back to the state. I’m really proud of them.”
All backs were eager, but not all belonged to energetic teens and 20-somethings.
Janet Bramley, wife of UVM interim president John Bramley, had spent a productive day raking leaves and hauling branches.
She was delighted at the turnout, she said, but ready to call it quits as the day neared its end.
“We’re going to sleep well tonight,” she said.
UVM hopes to organize another day of Irene volunteering later in the semester to give more the opportunity to participate.
Watch a slideshow of the day's activities