Volunteers come out in force to clean up Toney’s Brook in Glen Ridge

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Volunteers for the Toney’s Brook Cleanup event in Glenfield Park use a shopping cart they found to haul trash.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — With the weather inviting Glen Ridge residents outdoors, efforts for spring cleaning are underway around town. One was this past weekend when volunteers, a good number from out of town, pitched in on Saturday, April 9, for the semiannual cleanup of Toney’s Brook in two locations: Glenfield Park and the Glen, which is the strip of land between Bloomfield Avenue and the NJ Transit train tracks. The effort, sponsored by Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps, the Glen Ridge Environmental Advisory Committee, and the Bloomfield and Glen Ridge Rotary clubs, was under the on-site direction of Michael Rohal, the retired borough administrator. Rohal was stationed at the Glen. Borough resident Eric Hanan supervised the effort at Glenfield Park.

Rohal said Glen Ridge was one of several inland communities participating in Beach Sweeps, something it has done for 15 years.

“We get a lot of students and people from outside the borough,” said Rohal, who added that landlocked Glen Ridge is closer to home for many volunteers than out-of-the-way Jersey Shore communities. He noted that Sam Zichelli, son of borough administrator Michael Zichelli, had a recent Eagle Scout project cleaning up an area of the Glen and planting trees.

“We usually pick up about 20 trash bags of litter,” Rohal said. “Today, I saw a bike in the stream. There are a lot of metals. Sometimes we find mattresses. People throw them over the Freeman Parkway Bridge.”

But overall, the Glen has gotten cleaner, Rohal said, thanks to the Glen Ridge Public Works Department.

Three women were among the first volunteers to arrive. One was Denise Rios, from Roselle. She came with her sister, Isabel Rios, and her niece, Mia Rios, from Elizabeth. The sisters told Rohal a personal story.

For the Rios family, protecting the environment is personal. Isabel Rios said she and her sister had developed cancer but thankfully the disease was in remission. Following that, they started an organic soap and body lotion company.

“Everything in the environment affects your body,” Denise Rios said. “So, I started a soap company. We’re Dominican. We like to smell good.”

The name of the company is Mori Sonando.

“It means ‘die while dreaming,’” she said.

Other volunteers began to arrive, ready to clean the brook.

“Hi, I got 40 more hours for the Department of Corrections,” one man jested. “I left my orange jumpsuit in the car.”

He was given his marching orders and set out for detritus.

Rohal said 27 volunteers registered to clean up the Glen; 20 registered for Glenfield Park. They were provided gloves, tools, black plastic bags for garbage, white plastic bags for recyclables and a data card on which to note the kinds of plastics, personal protective equipment, metals, papers, cloths, woods, glass and rubber items that comprised the trash they collected. Balloons were included as a trash item. At Glenfield Park, Hanan said data requirements were specific to determine the source of the garbage.

“With beach areas, it may help to find beach polluters,” he said. 

As for Glenfield Park, he said often homeless people leave behind litter. Trash from nearby Glenfield Middle School in Montclair is in the park, too. NJ Transit personnel working on the nearby tracks leave behind industrial waste. Volunteers returned with discarded railroad spikes. 

On May 21, another ecology-minded event is scheduled for the borough. Co-hosted by the Glen Ridge High School Home and School Association and the Glen Ridge Environmental Advisory Committee, the Glen Ridge Arts and Eco Fair will take place on Ridgewood Avenue at the high school. Although the street fair is not prohibited from using plastic or paper bags, as are many types of stores beginning May 4, Megan Giulianelli, the event co-chairperson, said the organizers wanted a carbon-neutral and waste-free event.

“We don’t want to end up with 1,000 water bottles or plastic bags given out,” she said. “Vendors are not bringing any plastic bags, tablecloths or balloons. They know they have to use fabric table cloths, paper bags and no balloons.” 

Although water in plastic bottles is a money maker, none will be sold.

“It’s just wrong,” Giulianelli said. “Visitors should bring their own water bottles. We can be successful and not harm the environment. And we’re grateful the GRHS Home and School is totally invested.”