A team and some of the trash collected during the Keeping Belfast Maine Beautiful's first roadside cleanup day in 2018. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. Credit: Courtesy of John Gibbs

Last spring, a small army of orange T-shirt-clad volunteers took to the roadsides of Belfast to pick up fast food bags, soda cans, tiny liquor bottles, furniture, toilets and more.

A lot more.

Altogether, they pulled 4.27 tons of trash from the city’s 59 miles of roads, trails and even the banks of the Goose River. It’s a feat that organizer John Gibbs, a sergeant with the Belfast Police Department and a partner in two downtown restaurants, doesn’t want to repeat on Saturday, May 4, when volunteers gather for the second annual “Keeping Belfast Maine Beautiful” cleanup event.

“We hope to get a lot less this year,” Gibbs said. “Last year was the first year ever, and there was a lot of old trash.”

Still, there’s definitely a need for the roadside cleanup. He sees it when he’s out around the community and he is hoping that by making the cleanup day into an annual event, more people will become aware of littering. Gibbs credits his own childhood participation in the spring cleanup of his hometown, Monroe, with his strong feelings against littering.

“We would always do this as a family. We’d get a road assignment and take off for that section of town, and clean the ditches up,” he said. “I remember running around and having a lot of fun. The whole event resonated [with the message] about not throwing stuff out. I’ve been that way my entire life.”

Gibbs said that he’d been thinking about pulling together a similar event in Belfast for a few years, but it wasn’t until the end of 2017 that he got serious, teaming up with Norm Poirier, the city’s parks and recreation director, to make it happen. They weren’t sure how many people would want to participate — scouring the roadsides for trash can be a dusty, dirty endeavor. They were pleasantly surprised.

“It just exploded,” Gibbs said, adding that this year’s event will be sponsored by 34 local businesses and entities.

He has formed a “Keeping Belfast, Maine Beautiful” group on Facebook to help organize volunteers, who seemed to come from everywhere. Last year, about 500 people of all ages participated, including a large group of Troy Howard Middle School students and teachers and a group from the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition who used canoes to pick up trash as they paddled down the Goose River.

“It was awesome — really cool to see it happening,” he said. “The best thing about it was that it was a community event, just for the betterment of the environment.”

This year’s volunteers are invited to come to the parking lot by Front Street Shipyard and Front Street Pub, one of the restaurants he helps run, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. They’ll pick up their road assignments and supplies such as trash bags, brightly colored shirts and gloves, and then get going.

They’ll be asked to keep returnable bottles and cans separate, if possible — last year the organization collected $87 that way — and be told to flag “sharps,” such as used needles, if they find them so that a police officer can safely pick them up.

As well, there’s a contest to see who can pick up the most “nips,” or tiny alcohol bottle containers. The winner gets a $50 gift card to Front Street Pub and the Harborwalk Restaurant.

The cleanup is scheduled to last from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers are invited back to the parking lot with their bags of trash to enjoy a community cookout.

“Hopefully we’ll get good weather,” Gibbs said. “We have a rain date for the next day if it’s sideways pouring. But if it’s a drizzle, we’ll just deal.”