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Keeping the Mississippi clean

By Gaby Gerken

Yesterday the Central District crews had the chance to help clean up the Mississippi River through the DNR Adopt-a-River program. Our morning started at Harriet Island, where volunteers signed up for cleaning zones and boarded a boat for a ride down the Mississippi. Along the way we were told some facts about previous floods and cleanups, and got a pretty good view of the city in the distance. A few weeks ago, when crews were scouting the riverbank for pickup locations, someone found an old Chicago Newspaper article from 1939 with articles about World War II and Hitler! That’s a pretty rare find, but if you look long enough you will find any number of items: chairs, mattresses, fishing line and lures, shoes, old mop heads, plastic bottle caps and many, many pieces of Styrofoam.

Styrofoam gets everywhere. You try to pick up a single piece of an old, broken-down disposable coffee cup and soon end up with six pieces that are impossible to find again and have to be abandoned where they are. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. As soon as the next rain hits the pieces will inevitably end up in the river and head off towards the ocean, where all plastic inevitably lands.

It’s important to understand that cleaning a river or lake starts in your own driveway. You can have an impact by making sure that your trash is disposed of properly. When some does fall through the cracks, volunteers like us are often there to find what we can.

2012 sculpture: “Scuttled” by Andrew Vomhof

2012 sculpture: “Scuttled” by Andrew Vomhof

By the end of the morning, our crews and the volunteers managed to fill an entire dumpster with trash! In years past, some of the items we found might even have been turned into art; from 1994 through 2014, the Adopt-A-River program commissioned artists to make outdoor sculptures from found trash, which were exhibited near the DNR building at the Minnesota State Fair and later put on display at permanent locations. This one was created in 2012 and is now located at the DNR office (1200 Warner Road) in Saint Paul, Minn.

Learn more about how you can volunteer for Adopt-a-River.

Animals Spotted: Painted turtle, snapping turtle, monarch butterfly, ruby-throated hummingbird, blue heron, chipmunk, squirrel, deer, garter snake, dead muskie, woodchuck and bullsnake.