Cleanup Organizer Sees a Future of Smaller Footprints

Cleaning up the Coolidge Hill Summit.

Pat Conaway admits he is “kind of a nut” about the environment, so when he retired from teaching in 2008, it didn’t take long for him to find a number of productive ways to spend his time. 

“I wanted to get people fired up about the environment, to try to encourage citizens to get involved locally,” said Conaway, founder of Big Hearts, Little Feet. 

A nearly constant presence on area roadways, trails and waterways, Conaway can be found leading groups of volunteers, including many students, to pick up trash, improve trails and remove invasive species.

From beer cans to soda and coffee cups, trash tossed by the roadside washes into local rivers and, if left alone, eventually finds its way to the ocean, where scientists have found plastic particles outnumber zooplankton that sustain fish and other species.

But Conaway believes the real source of the trash is a societal disconnect. 

“My personal philosophy is that this all has a lot more to do with our relationships. We have disconnected ourselves from each other and other creatures that we share this planet with. We are all encased in our own little bubbles and forgot how we can impact each other and the earth. We need to work on repairing those relationships.”

At 67, Conaway thinks up-and-coming generations are being raised to be more mindful of their connections to the world around them.

“I think it’s starting to change a bit,” he said. “I am very hopeful that the universe is starting to bend a bit.”

For those who want to help, Conaway has several ways to get involved.

His Trail Buddies group meets two mornings a week to do improvements on open space properties — they are also in the process of planting 100 red Oak seedlings. His Recycling Buddies program needs volunteers who can empty the recycling bins he has placed alongside public trash receptacles in Natick.

And through Big Hearts, Little Feet, Conaway frequently organizes groups that remove trash from trails and waterways, something you can watch here. For instance, local business MathWorks Inc. annually sends Conaway dozens of employees to help clean trash from Fiske Pond. 

Conaway can be reached at, or through Big Hearts Little Feet at the Lake Cochituate Watershed Council Website

“There are a lot of big global environmental causes out there. What I try to do is get people to start looking at their own backyard and community first. Once you create that awareness, that’s when things start to change.”

South End Patch