What do urban ponds offer cities?
There are the obvious recreational benefits — opportunities for city dwellers to exercise, socialize, pursue hobbies and enjoy a nature quick-fix.
But urban watersheds like Dorrs Pond, Nutts Pond and McQuesten Brook in Manchester are also constantly working as funnels, collecting water that runs off the city’s impervious surfaces and naturally filtering it before it heads to the Merrimack River.
“If we have a good watershed that isn’t covered in junk, we’re more likely to have a well-functioning area for everyone,” said Michele L. Tremblay, president of the New Hampshire Rivers Council Board of Directors.
To protect the city’s vital watersheds, in the coming months Manchester Urban Ponds Restoration Program, New Hampshire Rivers Council and other sponsors and volunteers will head out to the ponds to tackle post-thaw trash accumulation.
In spring, long-hidden trash resurfaces and recreational use of the areas hasn’t yet picked up, so it’s the perfect time to tackle the trash, said Jen Drociak, co-coordinator for Manchester Urban Ponds Restoration Program.
Each year volunteers haul away more and more bags of trash — but it’s not because there’s more dumping. Instead, there’s been an increase in manpower. Last year, 300 people joined the effort. Since its conception 13 years ago, 697 volunteers have spent 2,394 hours collecting 1,899 bags of trash — and that doesn’t include items that have been illegally dumped, like shopping carts and tires.
Most of the trash isn’t intentional dumping, Drociak said. The ponds tend to be in commercial areas of the city, and trash gets blown away from dumpsters before it settles at the water. Common items include cigarette butts, plastic straws, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, food wrappers and plastic bags.
But some trash — the big stuff — is obviously illegally dumped. The group has fished out car windshields and engines, mattresses, an exercise bike, and a couple microwave ovens, to name a few items.
Drociak said she can’t be sure what entices people to dump their stuff, but “some of these areas are secluded,” she said. “Maybe they are not aware of the city’s transfer station and how to properly relinquish their waste. Perhaps they find it an easy way out of paying or driving to the transfer station.”
The cleanups take place on weekend mornings and last from three to four hours. Organizers like to keep them fun for the kids. Because there’s always the potential to find something really weird, they hold a contest where volunteers get a prize for finding the most unusual piece of trash.
In past years, the honor has gone to a bronze Buddha statue, a homemade wicca handbook, a large stuffed unicorn, a vending machine and a safe.
“Unfortunately, there was nothing in it,” Drociak said.
The Urban Ponds Restoration Program began in 2000 as part of a Supplemental Environmental Projects Plan, an agreement between the City of Manchester, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It aimed to address problems created by the city’s combined sewer system. Manchester’s stormwater and wastewater were collected in the same system. At times of heavy water flow, some water would bypass the wastewater treatment system, which was not in compliance with federal standards.
The program stopped receiving funding in 2005, but the cleanups continue.
“Myself and another individual have been coordinating the program largely as volunteer,” Drociak said, “The work still needs to be done.”
According to Tremblay, who is heading a cleanup at McQuesten Brook, each year people seem to become more conscientious about putting their trash in the right places. But the volume of trash can depend on any number of circumstances — for instance, snow.
“This will be an interesting year because when plows make huge mounds of snow a lot of trash tends to go with it. When snow melts, a lot is left behind,” Tremblay said.
Developments around the water matter too. In 2009, conservationists removed a dam that had been there since the early 1900s, in order to allow the water to flow freely. That resulted in lots of newly exposed trash that had been building up for years. And while the Manchester Student Conservation Association is sponsoring a cleanup at Dorrs Pond this spring, the Urban Ponds Restoration Program hasn’t hosted a cleanup since 2004 because upgrades to the parks trail system have encouraged visitors to keep it clean and well-maintained.
At Nutts Pond, cleanup crews used to dig up plenty of shopping carts. In 2012, they found a record 14 abandoned shopping cards. But in 2013 there were none. That’s because both Shaw’s and Stop & Shop closed, Drociak said.
This year cleanups are being held from April 26 to June 13. Organizers are looking for as many volunteers as possible.
“We like to get started promptly at 9,” Drociak said. “We’ll have gloves and trash bags available. And we try to make it fun.”
As seen in the April 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.