For more than thirty years, this community has been the beneficiary of the Clean Communities project, a day when residents come together to clean up the trash that has accumulated in parks and along roadsides. Unfortunately, this year it is yet another event to be cancelled due to the threat of COVID-19.
Clean Communities is a State-wide project aimed at reducing littering and was created by the Clean Communities Act passed in 1986. The Act provides funding for municipalities to abate litter by enforcement, cleanup and education. The funding money is raised by taxing business who produce litter-generating products. In the Hopewell Valley, Clean Communities is a collaboration between Hopewell Township and the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS).
The two organizations have coordinated bi-annual cleanups over the years with frequent participation by Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) student groups. The carrot for participants is that hours that they work are credited to donate to a local non-profit organization. Each Spring and Fall, orange-vest wearing groups of adults and children can be seen slowly making their way along roadways with giant bags of trash they have collected. The lands get cleaner and nonprofits earn needed funds. But not this year.
According to FoHVOS Program Manger Logan Horvath, the plan this year was to try to facilitate individuals and househhold groups to clean up their immediate neighborhood during the week of Earth day (April 22) with the proceeds to benefit HomeFront. FoHVOS had outlined a plan for cleaning up while maintaining social distancing. But, after the State Clean Communities organization cancelled its spring event, a decision was made to cancel the Hopewell Valley one as well.
Unlike the decision to open local hiking trails made earlier this month where officials said they felt that social distancing rules could be maintained, the organizers say they felt that cleaning up trash posed too much of a risk.
“The basic concern,” commented Hopewell Township Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, “was that people could be exposed to the virus on discarded bottles and other trash. There were special concerns about children who might not be as careful with gloves or touching their faces after handling something they found. While we were all saddened that this was the outcome, the risk was just unacceptably high. We can add this to the things we look forward to working on as a community when it is safe again to do so.
HVRSD Superintendent Tom Smith agreed, saying: “We are disappointed that the Clean Communities program is cancelled because we thought we came up with a viable solution to address social distancing concerns; however, FoHVOS and HVRSD are working on other earth friendly ideas to recognize Earth Day’s 50th [anniversary].