Youth volunteers cleanup the Great Falls | Paterson Times

Youth volunteers cleanup the Great Falls

4th Annual Great Falls Cleanup

It is not uncommon to find the Great Falls littered with plastic bottles, cans, and trash receptacles overfilled; the annual cleanup of the falls aims to tidy up the national park and instill in youths the desire to keep their community clean.

On Friday morning the young and old assembled to rid the park of litter; an event sponsored by Great Falls Youth Corps, a youth volunteering organization, National Park Service, a federal agency that manages certain designated parks, New Jersey Community Development Corporation, and Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority. The event gathered more than 50 volunteers and more are supposed to trickle in throughout the day, according to Ilyse Goldman, a park ranger.

Other organizations such as Hillcrest Community Garden, an organization that helps beautify the city by cleaning and planting, and Hamilton Partnership, a non-profit formed to launch the Great Falls, were there to lend a helping hand by getting their hands dirty.

Earlier in the week an elderly man, James Leonard, and a young man, Derek Conkelia, both of McBride Avenue, picked up plastic bottles and bags then placed them into trash bins. “We just clean all the time,” said Conkelia. “I usually don’t clean parks,” said Leonard, who says he cleans often around his neighborhood.

When this story was shared with organizers of the event many applauded Leonard and Conkelia’s efforts. “We greatly appreciate anyone,” said Manny Martinez, program director of the Great Falls Youth Corps. “We clean it [Great Falls National Park] up every day and every morning, when we come back there’s more and more trash.”

“DPW [Department of Public Works] cleans every day,” said Erik Lowe, chairman of the Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority. He explained that the park is open all day which makes it hard to keep track of the litter. “People come here all times of night, they bring food whatever they do, they choose to put it in the garbage or on the ground that’s what they do.”

Since the designation of the falls there has been more people visiting the historical landmark which explains the influx of trash.

Goldman, the park ranger, praised Leonard and Conkelia, and others who take initiatives to ensure that their community is clean. “It’s wonderful to see that the local community love their Great Falls and are proud of their history and want to show it off by doing their best to keep it clean.” She went on to thank them on behalf of the city and all visitors that come to see a clean environment. “It’s appreciated by the National Park Service, the city, and all the visitors that come from outside of town.”

Snjucktha Swarna, a teenager who volunteers for the Paterson Youth Council, wished more people from the community would show up to cleaning events. “Not a lot of people care, if more people cared it would be much better.” Swarna like many adolescents who showed up to the cleaning felt great joy in helping keep their park clean.  “What we’re doing today is really great, it’s not like we do something — or we get the chance to — do something for our community.”

Swarna and others youngsters grabbed shovels, gloves, and trash bags to collect the garbage; they diligently grabbed bottles, chip bags, grocery bags, papers, and other junk into large black trash bags.

“Passaic County is very fortunate to have these young people here who are committed to keeping this historic area clean,” said Pat Lepore, a county freeholder.

Leslie Agard-Jones, member of the board of trustees at Hamilton Partnership, a Paterson resident who resides on the Eastside, said, “If you can start early and get them to do it, they will not be littering in the future.”

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