Elm City residents gathered on Saturday to “green up” the city in time for the eighth annual Rock to Rock bike race and Earth Day celebration, which will take place on April 30.
For four hours, more than 150 residents volunteered at sites scattered throughout New Haven, including locations at East Rock and Edgewood parks, New Haven Farms, Columbus House, Bishop Woods School, the Farmington Canal and Common Ground High School in preparation for the event. Rock to Rock will host five bike races of varying distances and will kick off with breakfast and performances from local musicians in the morning. After the race, attendees will gather for celebrations at East Rock Park. Locals spent the afternoon painting, picking up litter, planting native trees and shrubs and removing graffiti. Other volunteers were hosted at sites on the West River bank of Westville through a partnership between the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the New Haven Land Trust.
“The several hundred volunteers who pitched in came from many diverse places with a similar goal in mind — to clean and green up New Haven,” Coleen Campbell, Rock to Rock Day of Service co-coordinator, said.
Campbell specified that the group of volunteers consisted of students from Common Ground High School, Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut, Yale staff, representatives from the Regional Water Authority, Elm Campus Partners and the Seymour Lions Club.
Day of Service Co-Coordinator Michael Pinto, who volunteered at the Edgewood Park site, said one goal of the service day was connecting the volunteer work with the main theme of Rock to Rock: alternative transportation. The large focus of the Edgewood Park site was refurbishing the rest stop and the entrance to the carriageway, which he said has not been updated in the eight years he has lived in Westwood.
“Because there is a multi-variety of organizations involved, everyone has a different focus on the ecology aspect,” Pinto said. “It’s interesting to see how we can tie in our ecological aims to the bike theme.”
Pinto’s group repainted the entryway, cleared debris and remarked the bike path. He emphasized the importance of connecting this newly accessible bike entrance with the cycle track the city has planned for Edgewood Avenue. He said this connection will be key to connecting the Edgewood community with Fifth Street and Whalley Avenue, which would allow Elm City residents to access Southern Connecticut State University more easily.
Joel Tolman, director of impact and engagement at Common Ground High School, spoke of his experience at the Common Ground High School site, adding that he was impressed by the diversity of organizations from which volunteers originated.
“We had about 30 volunteers out to get our gardens ready for the growing season, fill the 1,000 bags we give out to our Rock to Rock riders and make signs to welcome folks to our rest stops,” Tolman said.
Pinto added that the Rock to Rock service day is a way to kick off the spring planting season and encourage New Haven residents to think about the outdoors after spending most of the winter inside.
Pinto said he believes events like this are essential in developing civic responsibility and tying together the ideas of service and community activism.
“You can really incorporate that civic-mindedness at an early age with college kids that want to reach out. You just need a way for them to connect to the pre-existing local groups,” Pinto said.
Five distance categories will race from West Rock to East Rock during the Rock to Rock event.