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A clean sweep ahead of Earth Day Volunteers plant trees, pick up lots of trash

People usually go to the Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center in Hamburg to dig up fossils at the former shale quarry.

Saturday, there were about 75 people there digging, and while there was some fossil collecting, most were there to help commemorate today's celebration of Earth Day by unearthing human-generated trash.

In the 11 years since the annual cleanup has been held, volunteers have pulled out five cars, two boats, a golf cart, motorcycle, minibike and snowmobile, according to Jerold C. Bastedo, executive director of the Hamburg Natural History Society, which runs the center.

"Over the years, we've filled 14 or 15 Dumpsters," said Bastedo.

All across Western New York Saturday, Earth Day volunteers were picking up debris or -- in the case of many of the several hundred volunteers in Buffalo's Olmsted Parks -- planting trees.

Several hundred young trees found new homes in Delaware and Martin Luther King Jr. parks, according to Joy Testa Cinquino, spokeswoman for the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

With a cloudless sky and temperatures in the 60s, "We had a a lot of walk-up [volunteers]," Cinquino said. "Maybe 100 people walked up and wanted to help."

There were so many volunteers, a number of people were shifted from tree planting to helping pick up debris in the parks.

Evidence of trash collection was everywhere in and around Delaware Park. Orange bags of litter were stacked at a various points along Scajaquada Creek, one of a number of waterfront areas selected for attention by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

The not-for-profit river advocacy group expected about 1,500 volunteers to show over the weekend at some 42 sites throughout the area, including the Buffalo River, Buffalo Creek, Ellicott Creek, Tonawanda Creek and Smokes Creek.

"The site I was at had at least 50 bags of trash," said Julie Barrett O'Neill, the group's executive director, who was working in Buffalo's LaSalle Park. "It's the time of the year where we see all the stuff that's been neglected the past six months, all the trash in the snowmelt."

Waterfront cleanup crews also were walking along the banks of Cayuga and Gill creeks in Niagara Falls.

Ken Sherman, who organized the cleanup for the civic advocacy group LaSalle PRIDE, said the cleanup actually started Thursday with the removal of a large tree along Gill Creek.

Friday, LaSalle PRIDE volunteers pulled 1,200 pounds of shopping carts from the creek.

"Some had been sitting in the creek two or three years," Sherman said. "Tops didn't want them back," so the group sold them to a scrap-iron dealer, he added.

Saturday, Sherman said that an extensive cleanup also was under way along the Niagara River and Robert Moses Parkway.

"You work on these things for five or 10 years and you can really build some community associations," he said.

Many volunteers headed for spots along the Erie Canal for the second annual Canal Clean Sweep. Cleanup projects were scheduled for North Tonawanda, Medina, Albion and Holley.

In Lockport, parent Lee Butler of Williamsville was helping Boy Scouts from Troop 440 pick up debris along the bike path that runs along the canal.

"We started at the east end of Lockport and picked up litter along the trail and down the shoreline for a 5-mile stretch," he said. Several of the Scouts were working on merit badges, Butler added.

David McMichael of Grand Island also had a Scouting-related project. The 16-year-old was planting trees at the Penn Dixie site as part of his Eagle Scout project.

"I'd been planning on doing something here for years," he said, adding that he had visited the site many times with his family for fossil hunting.

Many groups, including Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, will do more cleanups today. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy will continue tree planting Saturday in Riverside and Cazenovia parks, as well as the South Buffalo circles.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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