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The Yankee Express

Watershed warriors tackle 50th-anniversary Zap cleanup

Zap 50 in South Grafton: Members of the Grafton Garden Club and Grafton Land Trust with signage marking the occasion of the 50th-anniversary cleanup.


The river is a lot cleaner now.
 “When I was growing up in the ’70s you couldn’t go near it,” Ken Bedard of Millbury said. “Now I fish for bass.”
Mr. Bedard was standing with Ray Longvall at the edge of the parking lot outside the River Bend Farm Visitor Center in Uxbridge on the morning of August 27th. They were handing out trash bags and other supplies to people participating in a 50th anniversary re-enactment of the “Zap the Blackstone” cleanup of the river that took place in 1972.
Described as “the largest single-day environmental cleanup in American history,” the original Zap utilized the services of 10,000 volunteers to pull all sort of debris from the Blackstone River.
This year’s effort was nowhere near that large in scope, in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. This Bonnie Combs blames on “unfortunate timing,” coming as summer vacations wind down and just before the Labor Day weekend. Ms. Combs is marketing director for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Mr. Bedard agreed.
“We’ll take we can get,” he said, of the numbers who chose to lend assistance this time around.
“We’re sending them to Plummer’s Landing and Lookout Rock,” he said.
“I’m a Board member of Zap and on the steering committee of Zap, and I am on the Board of Directors of the Blackstone River Watershed Association (BRWA),” Mr. Bedard said.
Mr. Longvall is with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“I help coordinate DCR farm events,” Mr. Longvall said.
They pointed to what was happening on August 27th as “a cleanup and a green-up” of the entire watershed, which is essentially all of the land that drains into the Blackstone.
Ms. Combs had previously predicted in a conversation with the Blackstone Valley Xpress that the biggest turnout for Zap 50 would occur in the town of Grafton. She was right. Working in collaboration, the Grafton Garden Club and the Grafton Land Trust put out an early call for residents to help collect trash along local waterways that feed into the Blackstone: in South Grafton alone, where representatives of the two organizations were gathered at the former Fisherville Mill on the 27th, these include Cronin Brook, Big Bummet Brook and Bummet Brook, Axtel Brook, Quinsigamond River, Miscoe Brook, Bruce’s Brook, Flagg Brook and McNamara Brook.
“Grafton is super energetic about this,” Ms. Combs said. “They are going to blow me away” with their effort.
Talking about Grafton’s role on the 27th, Helen Rawinski Blazis, who grew up in South Grafton, said “you drive by and you wouldn’t see” evidence of the need for the cleanup, “but the river knows.
“As a kid I remember what it was like. The river was pink and purple and there was all the suds. When I saw osprey, I knew the river was back; and this morning we saw a bald eagle!”
Ms. Blazis said her mother “got to write a book;” entitled “Zosia: Immigration and Industry along the Blackstone River,” the book is named after Ms. Blazis’s grandmother. It provides impetus for a re-enactment and power-point presentation she offers to the public, including one coming up on September 15th at the Asa Waters Mansion in Millbury Center. The event is free. It starts at 7:00 p.m.
A celebration of the 50th anniversary of Zap the Blackstone—dubbed “The Great 2022 Blackstone River Revival Zap 50,” will be held at the Slater Mill Historic Park in Pawtucket on Saturday, September 10th from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Ms. Blazis will be there.
She is pleased that today’s Blackstone is something to be proud of, that people can fish in, paddle on, hike and bike along.
  “It’s a Class B river now,” she says.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.