Treasure hunting on the West Branch

Saturday morning was a chilly one, but the sun was out. A group of hardy volunteers joined Rural Lands and HooRWA for a joint stream cleanup in south Williamstown along the banks of the Green River’s West Branch.

In 2018, Rural Lands acquired what is now known as the West Branch Green River Conservation Area: an 82-acre parcel neatly situated between Routes 7 and 43. To the east is Mt. Greylock, and the Taconic Range rises to the west. It’s really a nice spot. The stream borders one edge of the property.

Buried in the bank beneath a shady hemlock grove is an old farm dump, maybe 20-yards across. Its depths are uncharted, and it is chock-full of rusty metal, bottles and broken glass. The odd boot sole and leather upper. Bike frames, the door of a wood stove. Tires, of course. Multiple bottles of ‘milk of magnesia,’ that old-time remedy for heartburn. Just looking at all the trash gives me a little heartburn…

When Rural Lands acquired the property a few years back, we set the goal of cleaning up this site. It is going to take years, I assure you. But on Saturday, we took a decent swing at it.

The task at hand wasn’t glamorous. In fact, it was just what you imagine. We hiked into the worksite with leather gloves and trash bags. We clambered down the slope, opened our bags, and began harvesting trash. As we filled up a total of 15 bags — sorting by material: glass, metal, and ‘other’ — we chatted amiably and speculated about the waste disposal habits of bygone days.

Cleaning up an old farm dump along the banks of the Green River's West Branch.
Volunteers help clean up an old farm dump along the West Branch of the Green River.

In contrast to the refined atmosphere of the Williamstown Transfer Station, people in the olden days used to dump trash in their yards. Some of it was burned, some of it was buried. In small pockets all over town, there are farm dumps like this one. We have identified this site as a clean-up priority because of its proximity to the stream. In a high-water event, water might reach the edge of the dump and trash can be swept downstream.

With the right mindset, collecting trash from an old farm dump is a little like a treasure hunt: I found a pocket watch! (Doesn’t work.) A mason jar! (Probably not safe for canning.) A sealed metal canister, two-feet across and eight-inches deep! (The jury’s out on what this might be.) As we wrapped up the morning, we hauled our treasure out of the forest and loaded the pickup truck. Its eventual destination is the Williamstown Transfer Station. There may not be a shady canopy of hemlocks, nor the burbling sounds of the brook — but in the long run, this seems like a better destination for household trash.

If you feel like you missed out on a fun morning, don’t worry: there will be more!

If you’re interested, keep tabs on upcoming events by subscribing to our newsletter!

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00