Class’ service learning cleaning up

After three Saturdays of sifting through garbage, they were done – at least with the nasty part.Students in William Kuehn’s introduction to sociology class have been involved in a service learning component that included picking up trash along on Helen W. Buckner Memorial Preserve at Bald Mountain hoping to quell the littering.

“Hopefully we set an example so when people drive on the road and see there isn’t trash, maybe they won’t litter,” student Andy Eames said of the work.

Kuehn started this project three years ago with three goals in mind after Castleton started pushing for more service learning programs in classes. His goals were to get a hands-on project so students can practice what they learn. For example, they learn to apply research methods and inventory by tracing the trash back to who dumped it, and to help clean up the environment.

“I hope it makes them aware of what they throw out,” Kuehn said of the practice of making them study littering of those who frequent the area.

Kuehn picked the Buckner Preserve for the clean-up project because he has been working on cleaning this area for at least ten years.

“It’s a really nice spot,” student Joshua Furman said. “It deserves to be clean.”

After examining the trash, students tried to analyze who was illegally dumping their trash.

Jocelyn Kirby, who was at first skeptical about getting up early and picking up trash on a Saturday morning, said her group ran into “a whole bunch of kids stuff” including Disney movies. She said her group has a few guesses about where it came from: Parents whose children were grown up; children who had to clean their rooms or maybe families who were too poor to pay the fee at the dump

The class broke up the preserve into three parts: along the river, in the fields and woods, and along Lake Champlain. They discovered that each of these sections had different types of trash.

Along the river they found a lot of food wrappers and coffee cups, which they attributed to fishermen.

The woods were the main places for people who dumped old furniture and appliances.

Near the lake, beer cans and bottles were found in abundance, an indication of late night parties and bonfires.

Scattered within the litter, students found receipts, bills, and envelopes. These provided dates and times to help them better identify the culprits.

Names were also found in the strewn mess.

Students turned these names over to Robert Sterling, the game warden of the property, who then collected fines from the litterbugs.

“Not as many as need to be written, just a few,” Sterling said when asked how many tickets he’s been able to write with the help of the sociology class. “Garbage keeps coming, but these folks get in and clean. Fishermen take notice and try to help clean.”

The Buckner Preserve area sees so much illegal dumping in part because it is so desolate and “easy to get in and out,” said Sterling.

After three years of working on this project, Kuehn said the area looks much cleaner and every year they have picked up less and less trash.

This year they even had time to go clean up an old homestead whose family was long gone but was still surrounded by heaps of trash.

“The problem of littering and dumping can’t be solved overnight,” said Paul Vidovich, the land steward at the Nature Conservatory.

But he praised Kuehn’s class and said their findings have been valuable.

“That’s been interesting.”

Kuehn said he has also noticed that the land is being put to “more positive use” in recent years. The two hiking trails appear to be utilized more often while the area is used less for parties.

Also other classes at Castleton and some at Green Mountain have begun to use the area for biology and geology classes.

The progress of cleanliness has Kuehn doubting whether he will continue this project next year, but student Eames quickly pointed out there are plenty of other places that could use some cleaning up.

Looking at the help received from the sociology class, Sterling said, “If they didn’t do it, I don’t know who would.

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