Henry David Thoreau Would Smile

December 25, 2017 GMT

Editor’s note: This is the latest in The Sun’s “Be a Volunteer” series, focusing on people who join community nonprofits. Got a suggestion for a profile? Email it to cscott@lowellsun.com .

By Prudence Brighton

Sun Correspondent

BILLERICA -- Matthew Mixon appeared at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting last summer to deplore the trash riddled about the town’s wooded areas and conservation lands.

Mixon stepped away from the microphone and walked out of Town Hall.

Justin Damon, president of the Shawsheen River Watershed Association, was in the audience, and quickly followed Mixon outside.

The two spoke that night and formed a friendship that has resulted in tidier town conservation areas and open space.

“What Matthew said really resonated with me,” Damon explains.

Mixon says Damon inspired him, and Damon calls Mixon a “godsend for the environment.”

Mixon, 25 and a Shawsheen Technical High School graduate, grew up on Millers Farm Road with conservation land in his backyard.

He remembers winter sledding parties complete with hot chocolate on that land.

“He loved being in the woods, sledding, walking, enjoying the quiet,” said his mother, Cheryl. “As he got older he had a new appreciation for nature, and on a walk with me and Sophie, our rescue Lab, we decided to pick up trash we had seen but become immune to.”

As he grew up, Mixon noticed changes in the town’s appearance.

“We were losing a lot of trees and all to development,” he said.

He recognizes that nothing can be done about trees removed from someone’s property, but he’d like the town to preserve its land.

He’d like to plant trees to replace what has been lost.

Since their meeting last summer, Damon says the two have collaborated on numerous projects.

“I can’t believe the amount of work he’s got done,” Damon said.

Damon rapidly lists a number of cleanup efforts: Fox Hill, Jones Brook, Sandy Pond, just to name a few.

In November, Mixon created a Facebook group, Billerica Environmental Cleanup and Restoration News, which as of this past week has 110 members. Here he posts news of future cleanups, thanks people for their help, and reports on current conditions. It is an open group.

In a recent post, he lamented, “Sandy Pond is in a pretty sorry state these days. Despite my repeated efforts to clean up the pond, I have no way to travel on the water. All the work I’ve done has been along the shoreline of the pond. I’d estimate that I’ve spent about 40-50 hours total cleaning up trash around the pond over the last few years.

“Recently, someone threw in a mattress and a tire and somebody else dumped pieces to a cabinet or drawer on the ground right next to the road. This is all in addition to the two trash cans, beach chair, and traffic cone that were thrown into the pond a while ago.”

At an early December cleanup at Jones Brook, he discovered two collapsed makeshift bridges that were blocking the water flow.

Damon says Mixon is “carrying out a legacy and it’s people like him who will keep it going.”

His mother says that since they started gathering trash together, “He has tried to make a difference by cleaning up open spaces and the woods to keep it the home for all of the other animal life. He shows that small steps make big differences!”

Mixon simply knows that he would like to make the environment his life’s work.