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Cleanup organizers hope to draw 4,000 volunteers to spring ritual

Spring cleaning doesn't get much more ambitious than the cleanup blitz that was announced Monday.

Volunteers who ranged from preschoolers to senior citizens gathered in the lobby of City Hall to announce the annual Great American Cleanup. The two-month initiative begins Friday and aims to attract about 4,000 local volunteers who will spruce up neighborhoods, clean shorelines, plant trees and remove ugly graffiti.

Buffalo has been involved in this spring ritual for 21 years, starting with the Glad Bagathon. For the past 20 years, the city has participated in the Great American Cleanup, a national program coordinated by Keep America Beautiful.

Hundreds of community improvement projects will be launched through May 31 in communities throughout Western New York. One the largest initiatives will involve cleaning 77,000 linear feet of local shoreline.

"As the snow melts, we see enormous litter on our waterways," said Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

Scajaquada Creek will be among 40 waterfront cleanup sites that up to 2,000 volunteers will target.

Block clubs are preparing to help. The city will supply garbage bags, gloves and graffiti removal "wipes" to groups that call the 311 center to register their events. People who live outside the city should call 851-4890. People may also visit www.city-buffalo.com to learn more about the cleanup.

The deadline for registration is April 29.

Larrone B. Williams Sr., president of the Glenwood/Fillmore/Kehr Block Club, expects a couple dozen residents to help clean up some public green space that was planted last year. They will also plant some new trees and flowers during the cleanup.

Williams acknowledged that it's not always easy to mobilize large crews of citizen volunteers.

"During recessionary times, it's very hard for people to look at volunteerism when they're trying to keep the heating bill paid and things like that," Williams said.

His block club has been been circulating slingers to encourage people to participate.

Mayor Byron W. Brown and Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul are heading the local cleanup for the second year in a row. Monday, they joined James Pavel, who heads Keep Western New York Beautiful. Over the past two decades, Pavel said, 60,000 local volunteers have spent 300,000 hours picking up 1,000 tons of litter, planting 100,000 trees and flowers, and performing other tasks.

"A clean neighborhood is a healthy neighborhood. It's a safer neighborhood," Pavel said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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