Usually on the Buckeye Brook Earth Day cleanup, Paul Earnshaw can be found wearing hip boots, standing knee-deep in the stream and wrestling to pull out a muck-filled tire or some other form of debris cast carelessly in one of the state’s few interrupted herring runs.
On Saturday morning, however, he was behind the Knights of Columbus Hall on Sandy Lane answering questions.
“There are more bags over there,” he said, pointing to a car. Before he had barely finished, one of more than 120 volunteers who turned out at different locations in the brook watershed held up a syringe pulled from the undergrowth along Old Warwick Avenue.
Earnshaw took it and placed it into a plastic container with at least a dozen more needles.
The stretch of Old Warwick Avenue was closed to traffic, and an army of scouts fought through the brambles to retrieve everything from discarded coffee cups to clothing, an umbrella and even a couple of bicycles.
“It’s always like this,” said Earnshaw. “This stretch is off the beaten path and people just figure they can dump stuff.”
But Earnshaw is encouraged by what he is seeing and even by his new role of coordinating the cleanup rather than physically doing the work.
“It was a good turnout. It’s overwhelming that many people are getting it. After 17 years, I hope people are paying attention to what we’re saying,” he said.
The president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, Earnshaw credits the organization’s founder, the late Stephan Insana, with heightening awareness to the precarious condition of the brook and its fish run. At one time the brook was so full of herring making their way up to Warwick Pond to spawn that they literally were flopping on the banks. Those days are gone, but the fish still return. The coalition has been active in monitoring the runs by keeping count; vigilant as to conditions that would impair the system, such as the depletion of wetlands and runoff from the airport, and keeping the brook free of debris. The coalition was especially active in pushing for a glycol recovery system at Green Airport, which is now under construction, so as to reduce the runoff of deicing fluids into the brook.
While Earth Day isn’t officially until April 22, the coalition conducts its cleanup early in the month so as not to interfere with the fish runs.
Saturday’s spring-like conditions brought people out. By 9:15 there were 79 scouts from Troop 7 Buttonwoods, Troop 1 Conimicut, Pack 1 Warwick and Pack 7 Buttonwoods at the Old Warwick Avenue location. Additional crews from the Conimicut Village Association worked further down stream as well as in the village and along Mill Cove and Conimicut Point. Meanwhile, another contingent from the Warwick Neck Improvement Association tackled the salt marsh off Warwick Neck Avenue and overlooking Warwick Cove.
“You know what the most common thing found is?” questioned association president Mark McHugh, who was carrying a rotted board he had wrenched free from the marsh grass.
The answer was Dunkin’ Donuts cups.
But overall, McHugh gave the area an improved rating over previous cleanups. He said salt marsh grass is making a return and efforts to combat the invasive phragmites, a tall reed-like plant, are paying off. The coalition has undertaken similar efforts in the salt marsh in that section of Buckeye Brook between West Shore Road and Tidewater Drive.