Gov. Deane Davis established Vermont’s first Green Up Day in 1970, and it has been held on the first Saturday in May ever since. Here are excerpts from Davis’ recollections of how Green Up Day came into existence:
“The first Green Up Day was on April 18, 1970. The idea came from Robert S. Babcock Jr., then a full-time reporter for the Burlington Free Press.
“It had its genesis on a clear spring day in March 1969 when Babcock, driving to work in Montpelier from his home in Waterbury, became appalled at the devastation caused by spring snow runoff and the unsightly litter thus revealed. Upon arriving in Montpelier, he came to my office in the Statehouse and proposed the inauguration of a statewide effort, to be supported by the state highway department and large groups of volunteer citizens, to clean up the highways of the state.
“I was immediately much intrigued with his idea. At that time we were pressing vigorously for environmental legislation on several fronts. It seemed to be just what we needed to excite Vermonters and to focus attention upon and support for our whole environmental program.
“We decided not to put on a hastily put together program for spring of 1969, but, rather, to take the necessary time to plan and organize, and we set the date for the first Green Up Day to be one year hence on April 18, 1970.
“When the big day came, we were thrilled to see over 70,000 Vermonters out on the roads picking up trash, hauling trash and supervising the action. A large number were young people whose enthusiasm was contagious and their work invaluable.
“As a measure of safety we closed the Vermont Interstate Highway from 9 a.m. to noon. Each exit was manned by a Vermont State Police officer or deputy sheriff or a member of a local police force, to deny access and to route travelers to alternate routes and to explain to them what was going on. Some of the traveling public were angry or annoyed but were immediately cooperative and complimentary when the project was explained to them. A Green Up litterbag and a bit of literature was given to each traveler and we received many letters from out-of-staters traveling that day complimenting the state for the program.
“The results were far beyond our expectations: 4,000 truckloads were reported hauled by the highway department … over 20,000 cubic yards of trash removed from the interstate and other state roads, and another 20,000 cubic yards, or more, were removed from town roads. Ninety-five percent of the 2,400 miles comprising the interstate and other state roads were cleared and an estimated 75 percent of the 8,300 miles of town roads.
“County chairmen estimated that 90 percent of the litter consisted of beer bottles and cans. Other unusual items recovered were: $150 in cash, a dozen dead deer, one dead cow, a stolen purse belonging to a Boston, Mass., woman, a refrigerator, one revolver, two safes, a sleeping bag, a fishing pole, a bathtub, one bed and many small dead animals such as voles, dogs, cats and raccoons.
“We believe this was the largest statewide, voluntary, unified citizens’ effort ever organized in Vermont. It greatly enhanced the pride of Vermonters in their state. It inspired many Vermonters to refrain from thoughtless littering on our highways. It set the stage for continuing clean-up programs that have resulted in Vermont highways being known far and wide as the cleanest in the United States. It helped pass the bottle bill and a whole long list of other environmental legislation.”
This Saturday, the tradition continues.