By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — As the Twin Cities prepare for another summer of action, with crowds increasingly drawn to its waterfront, a lesson in volunteerism that has become a tradition is again in the works.
The Canal Clean Sweep, a statewide initiative linked to Earth Day on April 22, will come to the shores of the Tonawanda and North Tonawanda next weekend in preparation for the 190th consecutive navigation season on the New York State Canal System.
It is the ninth year both cities are participating in the event, which entails dozens of volunteers combing the edge of the waterway before the onset of summer.
In 2013, more than 150 communities, non-profits, businesses and clubs participated in 100 cleanups along the canal, which stretches more than 500 miles between Buffalo and Albany.
North Tonawanda will focus on a large swaths of its waterfront, while the City of Tonawanda plan on honing in on the Gateway Harbor area.
Ed Smolinski, a member of the North Tonawanda Waterfront Commission, said with a long and harsh winter, trash and debris tend to build up near Spruce and Niagara streets, Mayors Park and Service Drive.
"This is a great way for our community to come together and spruce up the area, and feel good about your efforts after a job well done," he said.
Both municipalities are currently seeking volunteers, though several businesses have already committed resources to the undertaking, including Jesse Gooch, owner of Painters Plus in North Tonawanda, who has sponsored the event.
"These events are what make Western New York so special to me," he said. "There are so many amazing people that pull together and create a community that cares and makes a difference."
Both mayors Rob Ortt and Rick Davis also underscored the importance of starting the boating season off with a bang. Ortt called it an effort to "beautify one of the city's most important assets" in an area that is becoming a "recreation destination." Davis took it a step further.
"It's a way for all of us to give back not only to the community but to help take care of of the earth and pass it on to the next generation," Davis said.
While the importance of the waterfront to both communities is evident, the economic impact of the canal has been estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
North Tonawanda has seen an uptick in boating numbers in recent years, which in turn influences the impact of areas like Webster Street. Smolinski said in past years, the volunteer corps combs the shoreline with garbage bags picking up litter, but the majority of their efforts come from Mother Nature.
"I'd say 95 percent of it is stuff that washes up from the river and the creeks," he said.
Both cities will meet with volunteers at 9 a.m. on April 26. North Tonawanda residents will congregate at Mayors Park, while the City of Tonawanda will start the clean-up at Gateway Harbor. Interested volunteers need not register in advance, only show up at the at 9 a.m. at the meeting points in the respective cities.