Tom Miller picks up trash at Warwick Park on March 15.

Lauren Frazee looks for littler at Warwick Park on March 15.

AmeriCorps and Hamilton Clean Communities lead clean-up events for residents.

It’s time to start spring cleaning—and that doesn’t just mean your closet. Areas all around Hamilton are in need of environmental makeovers, and residents are taking charge.

“I walk and drive all over Hamilton, and I am always disappointed to see so much trash in many locations,” Hamilton resident Tom Miller said. “With all the strip malls and stores around, there is plenty of trash that gets improperly disposed of or just blows out of trash bins and dumpsters that aren’t properly sealed. Clean streets, clean parks and clean streams provide a much healthier and more appealing place to live in.”

As a Department of Environmental Protection employee, Miller collects samples from freshwater streams throughout the state, including in Hamilton. He has drawn samples from the Warwick Park stream, where AmeriCorps, a federal government community service organization, sponsored a cleanup March 15.

AmeriCorps ambassador Jade Greene chose Warwick after traveling down Watershed Management Area 11, which runs from Milford to Hamilton, in search of a park to clean up.

“It’s kind of an interesting problem because most of the parks I went to did not have very much trash,” she said. “I’m driving around like, ‘Come on, I want there to be trash,’ but I couldn’t find any. Unfortunately, Warwick Park had some trash, and that’s why we decided to go there.”

Miller attended on his own accord, taking the day off from work to do so. The Warwick stream is especially important to him, he said, as he grew up playing in and around it. It also currently runs through his backyard. By the end of the day, volunteers collected 24 bags of trash in addition to larger items like shopping carts, armchairs, and even a treadmill.

Lauren Frazee, a Hamilton resident and AmeriCorps member, was also in attendance. She recently led her own cleanup along Lamberton Road. Frazee said events like these raise awareness of nonpoint source pollution, or contamination that comes from pollutants picked up and moved by runoff.

“If you’re not looking for it, sometimes you can ignore it,” she said. “You don’t see it, and it’s a problem that we have everywhere in New Jersey. We try to raise awareness about our water bodies that are sometimes under our streets and roads and in our parks that we don’t even know are there. Coming out actually makes a difference and cleans up the litter that’s present at a certain site that needs attention.”

Local events like these cleanups are often sponsored by Hamilton Clean Communities, run out of public works.

“We hook up with volunteer groups to do cleanups around the town,” Jim Wyrough, the Hamilton Clean Communities coordinator, said. “Groups like AmeriCorps are great. They’re keeping the country beautiful and clean.”

Kyle Battaglia, a township employee who often works with Hamilton Clean Communities, sees the impact these cleanups have.

“To clean up the environment is our number one goal,” he said. “Some people don’t recycle. Some people don’t dispose of their trash properly. It helps offset that. After going to these things, they’re more inclined to recycle and be concerned for the environment, so it’s encouraging. It means people care.”

Miller sometimes participates in cleanups with the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. He said one particular motto the organization follows, “We all live downstream,” is why local cleanups are particularly important.

“Any time we pollute, it is all of us who will be paying the price,” he said. “It’s the unhealthy water we’ll be drinking, the contaminated food like fish, mollusks and crustaceans we’ll be eating, and the unsightly parks, streams, lakes and beaches we like to visit. All streams and their contents eventually flow into the oceans we love.”

It all starts locally, he said, which is why participating in cleanups and encouraging others to do the same is so important to him.

“Although polluters are rampant, it lets me know that there are many others out there who see the value in keeping trash in its place,” he said. “It’s always great to see parents bring their kids out to these events and seeing the excitement the children feel showing off the special items of trash they find. It’s a good educational experience for them and a source of pride and accomplishment.”

Frazee agreed, saying it’s good to start young.

“It’s important to raise environmental awareness and the demand for environmental literacy,” she said. “I wish I’d been exposed to the things I know now about environmental protection at a much earlier age.”

She said the turnouts to all of AmeriCorps’ cleanups this year have been above average. To see that in her hometown, she said, makes her job even better.

“It’s great,” she said. “I think it’s very satisfying. To lead people and be a part of this initiative is great.”

Hamilton resident Daniel Keelan, a Democratic candidate for township council, wasn’t part of the AmeiCorps initiative, but he sponsored a Earth Day cleanup in the Bromley neighborhood on April 20. In April 2012, Keelan promoted the cleanup for the first time, and about 100 people from Bromley and other neighborhoods in Hamilton picked up trash and tidied vacant lots and several parks in the area. Other projects included painting over graffiti, as well as painting the boarded-up doors and windows at five properties.

Keelan said the projects in 2013 were to be much more ambitious, but the overall goal was the same: to keep the area looking nice and cared for.

“These cleanups help to build communities and to sustain communities,” he said. “When an area is allowed to look run-down, it will only worsen. That condition can become an epidemic and spread. Adding a volunteer effort to the existing efforts of the residents sustains the neighborhood’s resolve to be a welcoming and attractive part of the community.”

Cleanups don’t have to be organized, though. Residents can venture out on their own, even if that means simply picking up an empty bottle from the sidewalk. Keelan said residents can also adopt a storm drain and keep it clear or donate materials to an organized cleanup effort. Even putting lids on trash cans, he said, makes a difference.

“I love Hamilton and its many parks, and I hope it will stay such a wonderful place to live,” Miller said. “We can all do our part. We shouldn’t take our precious natural resources for granted. Clean water is no accident. We all need to work together to keep it safe.”