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More in Schools
SkillsUSA volunteers put cleaning skills to test
VOLUNTEERS — Volunteers ready their canoes for the clean-up along the Saco River.
CLEANING — Volunteers including OHCHS Skills USA students, clean the Saco River.
AREA — The Saco River is 136 miles long. Stretching from North Conway, NH to Biddeford, the river eventually empties out in the Atlantic Ocean. It supplies drinking water to more than 200,000 people and animals in 35 towns.
Whenever it rains, which in Maine, is often, branches, trash, leaves and other debris makes its way into the river, clogging small runoff streams, dirtying the water and causing a big mess.
The Saco River is big. And, because Oxford County is small and Maine is a fairly small state, some might think it would be difficult for people in a small area to do much to help the river.
However, one group in particular takes on the challenge every year.
SkillsUSA is a national organization that teaches students skills to help them with their school programs and sharpen their leadership skills.
Here in Oxford Hills, there is a local chapter for the 20 technical programs at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
On September 15, Oxford Hills SkillsUSA members, technical program staff and high school staff gathered at the high school and headed to Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg.
Using donated canoes from the Acres of Wildlife Campground in Steep Falls, they canoed from Lovewell Pond to Brownfield Bridge in Brownfield, cleaning up debris as they went.
“We’ve had tents, tarps, trash, shoes, everything you could think of,” said Richard Cormier, teacher of the Graphics and Printing Technology class at OHCHS.
“We just spend a day at the river.”
Cormier, along with Fred Steeves, organized the trip. They have been doing this for three years, and each year it’s successful, they say.
Other volunteers included Chelsea Rugg, a junior, Rose Bezio, in the Auto Collision technical program, Cheryl Miller, who works at a campground on the river, Greg Hesslein, who has worked for the Maine Forest Service for 26 years and Rodney Smith, who was invited along by another volunteer.
The group found many interesting things along the river, including chairs, towels, wine, paddles, an iPod, knives and cooking supplies.
“Someone thought their canoe was broken," said Miller, "so they ... filled it with all their trash and sent it down the river. It got down to the site [being cleaned] and [the volunteers] kept it. It's got some graffiti on it but it has no damage other than that.”
Miller, who works at a camp site on the Saco River, retold this story as she cleaned the river.
"Someone found an iPod and texted the contact “Ma,” and a few months later, someone came and got it!” she said.
Another volunteer, Michelle Broyer, who has also worked at a campground for six years, grew up on the river.
Seeing all the trash, she said, made her upset. Broyer used to work as a volunteer doing boat inspections for milfoil. She then found out about the volunteer cleanup, and now, it’s her job.
According to Broyer, one time a troop of Boy Scouts found a wallet on the river with five $100 bills in it.
Hesslein has been volunteering for the past two years, and says he’s found knives, straps and a huge, homemade cast iron grill.
Hesslein stated the worst thing he’s ever seen on the river is when people are flat out “bombed” and act like idiots.
The day the volunteers worked happened to fall on “Land Owner Appreciation Day,” so it wasn’t just SkillsUSA working on the river.
People all over the state were cleaning up trash and things that had been left in the woods.
The volunteers worked hard cleaning up the Saco River. The day was also fun for the volunteers, and, as another volunteer Mike Porter put it, “It’s a good time.”
For many volunteers, this year was their first and they seemed to enjoy the experience.
“If invited, I would love to go again!” said Smith.