By Marjorie Nesin
---- — As the city’s Department of Public Works has gradually downsized over the years, its employees struggle increasingly to complete their tasks and pick up after the trash, lawn debris and litter that some people drop behind in the city’s natural spaces.
Now, with calls coming in about illegal dumping and other trash-related issues, a local volunteer group stepped in to aid the city.
When the 16 remaining full-time DPW employees spend their time collecting trash left haphazardly along Stacy Boulevard, dropped illegally in Dogtown or left littered across Pole’s Hill, they lose time for other projects, says Public Works Director Mike Hale.
“This detracts from other things we could be doing,” Hale said. “It’s just unfortunate, with a short staff, a lot of things that are programmed for routine work have to be moved on down the line.”
So, as employees have found their time filled with prioritized tasks and cleaning up litter, vines and leaves have woven their way across footpaths and trees have cracked and crashed, blocking off some of Gloucester’s hiking trails. And two hikers who recently called the Times told of massive piles of trash left near a Dogtown firepit by apparent parties.
“When public works gets cut, the effects aren’t noticed as quickly,” Hale said. “They get noticed down the road.”
Luckily for Gloucester’s hiking and trail enthusiasts, a group of locals volunteering under the title of Cape Ann Trail Stewards have begun blazing trails through bramble and collaborating with the city and other Cape Ann communities to carve proper trails in some of the most demanding locations.
The group, which formed this past winter, started by cleaning up Goose Cove a few weeks back, then continued onto Pole’s Hill last weekend. They spent over half a day cutting back branches, removing fallen trees, and picking up litter from the spot where city residents fought to preserve the nature, opposing a housing development years ago.
“We’ve identified that Gloucester and Rockport have thousands of acres of open space, but they just don’t have the resources to keep them in good shape,” said the group’s president, Nick Holland. Rockport and Gloucester combined boast about 5,000 acres of open space.
Leslie Burns brought along her hedge trimmers and lent a hand in clearing the Pole’s Hill trails across the area Saturday. Burns also volunteers on the Essex Open Space Committee with the Greenbelt and the Essex Open Space Committee, but said she was thrilled at the various skills that members of Cape Ann Trail Stewards brought to the table even back at their first winter meeting.
“It was just exciting,” Burns said. “The energy and the discussion about what could be done was invigorating.”
Mary Devaney, a Rockport resident and member of the town’s Open Space Committee who walks miles through Dogtown with her dog most days, volunteers with the Cape Ann Trail Stewards. A longtime resident, she watched and enjoyed as Dogtown shredded its “dangerous” reputation of the ‘80s and said she hopes as more people enjoy outdoor sports and recreation that Gloucester and Rockport’s woods will remain welcoming for adventures.
“I hope we’ll be able to make sure it’s still there when everybody gets there,” Devaney said.
The trio, with three dogs skipping alongside them, stepped along a newly cleared path toward a flat rock. From there, Holland pointed out a view of the Annisquam bridge to one side, a glimpse of Wingaersheek Beach to the right — and the city’s wind turbines spinning further off.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.