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As they cleaned up at opposite ends of the city, some volunteers participating in Earth Day activities Friday acknowledged that enthusiasm for -- and participation in -- the environmental movement's signature day might have faded.

"I remember being a kid and hearing a lot more about it than now," said Coast Guard Lt. Steve Youde, taking a break from collecting trash along Fuhrmann Boulevard.

But for some, the ideals behind the day remain strong -- no other reason for spending a day stooping down to pick up other people's litter, as Youde was doing.

Or scooping out tires and trash from the lagoon at the newly opened Times Beach Nature Preserve on the boulevard, as some of the other 30 volunteers from the Coast Guard's Buffalo group were doing.

Or digging holes in Riverside Park to install beautiful, handmade metal benches, as Neal Freiermuth and David Burlee were doing.

"This is very fulfilling," said Burlee, who fashioned the stainless steel bench backs at General Motors Powertrain's nearby Tonawanda Engine Plant in the Town of Tonawanda, where he and Freiermuth work.

Youde, Freiermuth and Burlee said they really hadn't given much thought to how Earth Day has changed, maybe because it hasn't changed much from their perspective.

"I try to give back to the community; it's your home," said Freiermuth, who lives in Youngstown but, like many plant workers, drives by or spends break time in the park. "If everybody did that, it would be a better place."

Youde and the other Coast Guard personnel working along Fuhrmann Boulevard actually could stand for a little less giving by some segments of the population, specifically the people who believe the boulevard is their dump.

Hidden below the Skyway -- in a section of the city with little traffic and where scrub growth provides ready cover for trash -- Fuhrmann Boulevard has long been a preferred place to abandon junk.

"We've pulled out everything from car parts to furniture," Youde said. "The city just came by a little while ago and pulled out a burned-out truck that sat there for a month."

Youde and the other Coast Guard personnel serving in Buffalo use the boulevard to get to the station, so they frequently see the mess.

But with a new bike path, an expansion of the walkways at Times Beach and big plans for developing the adjacent waterfront, the area served by Fuhrmann Boulevard is likely to get more use.

"Things are starting to happen down here," Youde said. "If it's going to get better, people have to stop dumping."

The task wasn't as daunting in Riverside Park, where about 50 Tonawanda Engine Plant workers were supplemented by volunteers from the American Cancer Society and the Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association.

"We already partner up with these folks on a number of causes, and they help us out with ours," said Tom Brown, a GM employee and one of the organizers.

The park included trash to be collected, but the volunteers mostly spruced it up following winter.

Although plant workers had blitzed the park last fall, Friday was the first Earth Day cleanup of Riverside, and Brown said he hopes it starts a tradition for plant workers.

"Maybe we can breathe some life back into it," he said, "especially to people who maybe it isn't as important to as it used to be."

In Niagara Falls, meanwhile, pupils from St. John de LaSalle Elementary School in Niagara Falls and students from Tonawanda High School marked Earth Day by planting two Eastern Redbud trees Friday on the rim of the Niagara Gorge.

"If we don't take care of the environment, it won't be here for us," said Jodee Cummings, 18, a 12th-grader at Tonawanda High.

"These trees will bloom like you wouldn't believe," Andrea Mondich, a state parks horticulturist, told them.

Thousands of pink flowers will blossom every spring, followed by an array of heart-shaped green leaves, added horticulturist Mark Dymond.

Over the next 10 years, he said, the 8-foot trees, planted near the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, will grow to 20 to 30 feet tall. The flowers are a key source of nectar for honey bees. Songbirds, especially cardinals, also are drawn to the Redbuds.

"It's real beautiful here," said Geino Violanti, 9, a fourth-grader at St. John de LaSalle who lives in the city. "I'm always very impressed by the falls."

News Staff Reporter Bill Michelmore contributed to this report.

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