“This Is Our River, And It Is Filthy”

Alert “06880” reader Christy Colasurdo writes:

Sunday was beautiful and sunny. My 13-year-old son was excited to show me the swan’s nest he recently spotted behind Parker Harding Plaza

I brought my camera, and looked forward to taking a few shots of the mama swan sitting on her eggs.

Saugatuck River swan by Christy Colasurdo

Then I got a glimpse of all the trash — literally, piles and piles of it — poking through the reeds and floating in the muck just below the boardwalk.

There were so many Starbucks cups, water bottles and straws that I couldn’t count them all. Too many Gatorade bottles and soda cans to mention. The garbage and debris was so plentiful that the poor mama swan wove the most colorful tidbits into her nest.

Saugatuck River garbage by Christy Colasurdo

I promised Charlie we would return with high boots and trash bags at the next low tide, and do our part to clean up this mess.

But then I thought it might be worth it to appeal to all Westporters to help in the clean-up — in the spirit of Earth Day on Monday, April 22.

So I am throwing down the gauntlet, to all Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, all environmental groups, families, local organizations and individuals who care about our environment.

Come do your part to clean up the Saugatuck. This is our river, and it is filthy.

I assumed that local businesses on Main Street, or even our municipality, would take some sort of responsibility for keeping the riverfront clean. Perhaps they are not aware of the sad state of riverfront at low tide, just as I was.

But I am seriously disgusted that a walk along the river — one of the town’s gems — would uncover such a dirty little secret.

Let’s clean it up, Westport.

29 responses to ““This Is Our River, And It Is Filthy”

  1. Thank you Christy for encouraging the community to clean up Saugatuck. My children and I spent a few hours one Saturday afternoon cleaning up a river bank that we frequented and it is a wonderful memory. Please, please, please wear thick gloves and do not bring dogs as polluted water can carry very harmful bacteria and all sorts of uglies. We learned the hard way when we brought our black lab along to help.

  2. isitpinworthy

    The garbage is not emptied nearly often enough downtown, so the cans are usually overflowing, and the cups and trash that spills over is easily blown into the river. I think the Earth Day clean up is a wonderful idea but after that I think we need to implore the downtown merchants to increase their garbage collection efforts. There really is no excuse for such a dirty mess.

  3. Thank you, Dan….. my neighbor and I pick up trash every morning when we walk along the river at 6:30 AM. We have also reported seeing suds in the river when at Canal Street Bridge….keep being told it is algae….do not think so….. at least 5 requests have been sent to the town from us…….
    Julie Fatherley

  4. Grumpy this Morning

    If you’re not buying or selling useless overpriced crap downtown, no one is interested in your concerns. Ironic, considering for 8 years, the obsession with developing downtown has not abated. I get more meeting notices with cancellations than I do with agendas from the P&RC. Compo looked dumpy even before Sandy, and the golf course seems in a semi permanent state of greens keeping crisis management.

    Westport’s apparent priorities: Schools, Schools, Barron’s South. No quibble about the schools, but what about everything else?

  5. Time to roll up our sleeves. Great of you to speak up on the issue Christy. My eye has been catching more refuse and litter on Hillspoint as I walk to the beach. I’ll bring a bag and gloves! next time I go walking for plastic pick-up. .

  6. Fully agree and thanks to Christy for bringing it to this page. The carelessness and laziness is apparent in so many parts of town–Winslow Park and all of the athletic fields to name two. On a diiferent note—As a parent of two small children, I’ve noticed a rapid deterioration of a lot of the play equipment at Compo– a ton of broken and rusted pieces of hardware. Who is responsible for inspection and maintenance of that playground? If one of the tire swing components breaks while in use, that could create a very serious injury.

  7. Shame on any citizen who litters.. Shame on the downtown merchants,association for not providing ample garbage pails and timely emptying. They have made our river look like the Yangtze.

  8. Nick Thiemann

    There is a tendency to find blame in all aspects of our life. If something bad happens, who is to blame? I’ve lived on the Saugatuck for the past 45 years. This past year , however has been horrendous in terms of high water, which overflows the river’s banks. When this happens all sort of junk, some of it years old, gets washed down or up the river. Sandy came in late October just to add to themess. No one in their right mind has been out cleaning the river since then. This is all a natural phenomenon. No blame.

    It needs to be cleaned up! Back in the old days we had “The Great Race.” It started at Parker Harding, each entrant with a non-motortized craft went to Cockenoe Island, filled a trash bag full of junk and came back to the starting point. It was a great town event, cleaned up Cockenoe, and was a lot of fun.

    This is a great summer project. April is too early to safely fall into the river. Organize a real effort for later in the year.

  9. This is definitely not a new problem. Heidi Cornish McGee unearthed a letter she wrote to the Westport News, as a 9-year-old Coleytown Elementary School student. It was published on May 28, 1975. Heidi wrote:

    “I am very concerned about the Saugatuck River. I went down to sit on a bench near Parker-Harding Plaza. It was low tide. As I was walking back to the car with my brother, Andrew, I was very disappointed. In the water I saw oil slick, dead fish, old shopping carts and tin cans. It is very beautiful down there. Why ruin it?’

  10. Kathleen Davis-Groener

    Saturday April 20th is Westport Beautification Day sponsored by Parks and Rec and the Beautification Committee. Please join us in the Jesup Green parking lot at 9AM and bring gloves and a rake if you can. It’s a great way to meet new people, share ideas, and contribute to your community. As Dan has pointed out, there is an enormous amount of cleanup to be done and many hands are needed. Lets not sit around and wait for someone else to do it, lets just get it done!

  11. David Stalling

    This is a great idea, and may also serve as good way to create more awareness of, and concern and support for the river.

    As visible as it is, litter is not the worst of it. The Saugatuck River and its tributaries have long experienced continued decline in water quality from the loss of riparian buffers, poorly maintained septic systems, lawn chemicals and fertilizers being carried into the river as polluted runoff and other issues. This, of course, has negative consequences for fish, wildlife and people. Healthy rivers are good for all of us.

    In 2005, with help from The Nature Conservancy, eleven communities within the Saugatuck River Watershed formed the Saugatuck River Watershed Partnership (SRWP) to work together to address these issues and work to restore and protect the health of the river. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Save the Sound, American Rivers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Restore America’s Estuaries and other agencies and organizations are also involved.

    Also, the Westport-based Nutmeg Chapter of Trout Unlimited (a national nonprofit I work for, made up mostly of anglers who work to protect, restore and sustain trout, salmon, steelhead and their watersheds) frequently organizes river cleanup projects.

    It might be worth contacting all of these groups and organizations and get them involved in a river cleanup day. In addition to helping to organize it and rally their membership and volunteers to the effort, it could also help increase awareness and understanding of the river and get more people involved to support restoration and protection efforts.

    Perhaps there should be an annual “Saugatuck River Day” celebration that could include all sorts of activities, including a river cleanup. I know other communities have organized such events around other rivers.

  12. David Stalling

    PS: Athough I now live in Missoula, Montana (where five major river systems come together into the Clark Fork River, which leads to the Columbia and eventually to the Pacific), my days fishing and playing in the Saugatuck while growing up in Westport molded and forged my desires to restore and protect rivers, and fish and wildlife habitat. I’d be happy to do what I can from here to help organize anything that helps the Saugatuck River. A celebration of the river and a clean up day is something I would definitely visit Westport to help with. I can be reached at: 406-274-3906.

  13. The Parks and Rec Dept will sponsor a Green-up Westport Day Sat Apr 20. If you’re working with a group, call Pks and Rec ahead of time and they will pick up the bags at the public place you choose to clean up. Or you can work around your own street. Free bags at Jesup Green 9-11 Sat 4/20.

    Jo Ann Davidson

  14. Carl Addison Swanson III

    The town, as a whole, has an abundance of trash, here and there. We pick up on North Avenue which is usually a clutter of kid’s discards from after school. The days when home owners actually took care of their own property seem to be well gone. Replaced by lawn services who rarely care about the outer perimeters. There needs to be leadership on this matter but seems absent? If our leaders don’t care and we don’t seem to care enough to vote most often, then we get what we get as the photos illustrate.

    • The mess on North Avenue isn’t Gordon’s fault. We parents need to teach our kids to use some manners and good sense.

      • That hasn’t worked for 60 years I have been around this town, Tracy. The police look the other way on any littering and/or speeding along North Avenue. Same with cellphone use. 1 out 3 cars are violating the law. You want change, it needs to come from strong leadership and sanctions. Heck, many of the violators, including the trash, is the parents.

        • Woog's Willy

          “…many of the violators, including the trash, is the parents.” UMMM Many of the violators are the cops and town employees themselves. Actually. But nice try.

          “The police look the other way on any littering and/or speeding along North Avenue. Same with cellphone use.”

          1. Totally wrong about speeding. The cops don’t see much excitement in town, so they’re quick to pull you over for going 5 miles over the speed limit. God forbid.

          2. The police also look the other way for kids on the football team. What’s your point?

          3. Why don’t you start some kind of coalition and lead this crusade? You seem pretty hellbent on it. Go ahead.

          • We have started a community action group to deal with speeders on North Avenue and the police often now station an unmarked officer just north of Pleasant Valley Lane. As to your other points, sour grapes. All proceeds for speeding tickets go to the state, so there is no motivation to catch speeders. But drive down the Post Road at midnight in an old car and you find the police very readily. As for the Wrecker football players, you ain’t studs for long . . . you must realize that Willy.

  15. I live on the Saugatuck river in Weston. There’s plenty of fish and clean as can be up here. My golden retrievers do love to swim in it though.

  16. I’m always amazed at what people will throw out their windows on one of the major east/west through Westport streets. Beer cans, fast food boxes, bags and take out containers etc…
    I get that you don’t want to be caught with open alcohol bottles & cans, but why our driveways?

  17. Interesting insight, Chef. Don’t see many apple cores or empty kale wrappers out there? Hint: the kids usually dump out the booze bottle just before getting home.

    • The location of the highest density for trash moves with the seasons. Soon, the Compo beach area will be covered is all sorts of debris. It is so much easier to throw a beer can out of a moving car than it is stop and put it in a receptacle.

  18. Woog's Willy

    For the record, I blame Obama.

    – WW

  19. Out here in LA, we have an organization called Heal the Bay. In September, thousands descend on the beaches with garbage bags to clean up the Santa Monica Bay. They also have education programs and engage with the city and the merchants to help keep our little section of the ocean as clean as possible. Maybe start something similar in Westport? Heal the River? Here is the link to Heal the Bay. http://www.healthebay.org/about-us I am sure that they would be happy to talk to you about how they got started to really clean up the river!

  20. Whenever I’ve come back to Westport these years, it just looks so much cleaner to me compared to when I was growing up there, with the stench of the East Norwalk incinerator in my nostrils. But I guess that though Westport now looks like a habitat in some places, there is still a ways to go. Wherever we live today there us usually a clean up opportunity. Let us keep taking advantage of these opportunites to clean up the enviornment we’ve been entrusted with.

  21. Tired of the trash on our beaches, roadways and in the river? Join fellow Westporters at GREENDAY!

    —From their website http://www.westportgreenday.com

    Staples Club Green is pleased to announce GREENDAY, a community-wide event that celebrates the amazing work in sustainability that is happening across our great town. Rather than one single, localized event, GREENDAY will showcase numerous initiatives and organizations with a daylong schedule of activities at locations throughout our town. The schedule of events is posted below. Most events are family oriented and free unless otherwise posted. Pick and choose how you want to spend the day celebrating the Earth! Come alone or with your family. Attend one event or attend all. It is really up to you but it is all about celebrating sustainability in our town!

    Get excited and get ready, because this event is going to blow your solar panels off!

    There is a whole schedule of events, but the one below focuses on cleaning up the beach at Longshore.

    8am-10am: ‘Hurricane Sandy’ Beach Clean-up at Longshore
    – Sponsored by Builders Beyond Borders (B3) and Westport
    Parks & Recreation Department. http://www.buildersbeyondborders.org
    – Location, Longshore Club Park, 260 South Compo Rd, Westport
    – Fee: free and open to the public
    – Parking: lower parking lot at the Longshore golf course First Tee
    – Description: geared to all ages. clean-up of beach trash leftover form Hurricane Sandy. Bring hiking boots or rubber boots, work gloves and a filled water bottle