CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A call to action to take part in the town’s annual effort to clean up its public areas brought out hundreds of volunteers last weekend willing to give up a Saturday morning to beautify the community.

This year’s version of Clifton Park Clean Sweep combined the well-known volunteerism of Earth Day with that of the lesser-known Arbor Day and its tree plantings.

Many communities across the Capital Region held Earth Day cleanup events last weekend and Clifton Park was no different. From cleaning up Lock 19 on the Erie Canal on Friday with personnel from the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Ballston Spa to one family’s effort cleaning the Moe Road Trail on Saturday volunteerism in the community was on full display. 

Several of the Navy volunteers had been through the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. After raking and mowing at Lock 19 all four took the opportunity to learn how the double lock had been built in the 19th century.

One of the earlier efforts on Saturday took place at the historic Clute’s Dry where officials from the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway joined with members of the Byway’s Friends group for an early morning sweep of the dry dock’s parking area.

Clute’s Dry Dock was used by boats on the original Erie Canal as a place to pull off and make repairs. The small hamlet that grew up around it is long gone but the pond used by the boats has been restored and cleared of the overgrown brush.

Wading into the low-lying pools of water and mud surrounding the stone parking lot volunteers pulled up an eclectic collection of trash that included a power drill, a broken Louisville Slugger baseball bat, a boombox, a child’s snow shovel, a hubcap, several odd pieces of lumber and a blue ping pong table.

“I thought I could get the whole table out but it’s crumbling in my hands as I pick it up,” said Friends Vice President John Loz as he waded into the mud for a third try.

At nearly the same time Girl Scout Troop 3811 was working to clean up Collins Park near Route 146 while the Hicks Family was making its way along the Moe Road Trail cleaning out the trash that had accumulated over the winter.

At the Clifton Commons, where the soccer fields were filled with activity, the town’s GREEN Committee kicked off a week-long string of Arbor Day activities by planting four large lilac bushes. The bushes were purchased with a $1,000 grant from the New York State Urban Forestry Council.

The “plantings” were more photo opportunity than sweat equity as the holes had been dug by staff from the town Highway Department and the 500-pound bushes had each been planted during the week in their appropriate spots on the boulevard’s median.

“We got the lilacs from a nursery in Petersburg,” said Councilwoman Amy Standaert. “The person we dealt with was very familiar with Common, knew what kind of soil we have, the traffic patterns, and recommended we get these.”

For more of a one on one interaction, the GREEN Committee was also distributing free, tree saplings and birdhouse kits. Visitors to the table set up near the Clifton Park Senior Community Center had their choice of white pine, silky dogwood, gray dogwood, or winged sumac saplings. The birdhouse kits had been provided by the town Parks and Recreation Department and came in three styles.

“Parks and Recreation usually sponsors our Arbor Day Poster Contest but because of the pandemic they decided to go with the birdhouses this year,” Standaert said.

To see an actual tree planting on Saturday one had only to drop by the town’s Garnsey Park on Route 146 in Rexford. To the rear of the large open meadow that parallels the road youthful volunteers from two area Rotary clubs were sweating away digging holes, and planting four red maples  and two shadblow trees.

The six trees were being planted thanks to the volunteerism of the Shenendehowa Rotary and Twin Bridges Rotary Clubs’ Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored youth service organization for junior high and high school students.

The trees had been purchased with a $1,000 grant from the town’s Community Action Fund; a fund that generates grant money from residents’ donated bottles and cans dropped off at the transfer station.

“These trees are just the start,” club advisor Eric Hamilton said. “The full plan is to have a row of trees near along that wide path to the park’s pump station and another row of trees back here and a meadow of wild flowers in between.”

Hamilton said the layout had evolved from discussions among the Saratoga Soil and Water Conservation District, the town’s Open Space, Trails, and Riverfront Committee, and the Shenendehowa Nordic Club. The Nordic Club uses the park for cross country skiing in the winter and is in charge of packing the trails.

The day’s planting was part of an effort on the part of the two Rotary chapters to get more teens interested in joining the Interact Club. A half dozen teens took part in planting the trees and after several hours of digging, fertilizing, planting and watering they knew how exhausting community service can be.

Standing by one of the freshly planted red maples Hamilton turned to the group and put the day’s effort into perspective.

“This tree we just planted has the potential of outliving us all,” he said.

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