Dozens of community members found themselves on the riverfront of the mighty Mississippi with more than 20 full garbage bags.
The cleanup event was planned after a series of Welch Township residents were hoping to do something about the trash along the shorelines near Sturgeon Lake Road and County Road 18.
On the rainy Saturday morning of the cleanup, people showed up for the river. Volunteers brought supplies, smiles and good attitudes. With all the help that showed the cleanup was finished in just two hours.
“I am very grateful for everyone who joined us to help out, and I’m really happy with the result,” Goodhue County Commissioner Linda Flanders said.
Welch residents went out into their community prior to the cleanup to bring awareness to the issue and gather signatures to be given to government officials.
The letter that was signed by community members stated, “We have witnessed unattended children in lanes of traffic, littering, burning and graffiti on the bridge. Also of concern is the illegal harvesting of fish we believe to be taking place and trespassing on private property where items have been stolen.”
The concerns sparked interest in the issue by local government officials and real consideration took place.
The Mississippi River has been a topic of discussion for the last several months. There is evidence showing that the health of the river is declining and was recently named on the most endangered rivers in the United States list.
The riverfront in Red Wing and the surrounding areas is not spared in this discussion.
Flanders reached out to other government agencies and people involved in the enforcement of laws along riverfront areas to see what we can do to improve the littering issues and prevent it in the future.
After weeks of outreach and independent research, she rallied many people together for a successful cleanup effort that she and many of the volunteers hope to make an annual event.
“My vision is that this type of local endeavor expands to all counties along the Mississippi River. We called it The Mighty Mississippi Cleanup for that reason” Flanders said.
Red Wing residents, Welch residents and Prairie Island residents had a hand in picking up some of the trash during the cleanup.
Alongside the community members were council members, the Red Wing mayor and other local leaders. They too wanted to bring awareness to this issue.
The trash along the riverfront varied and almost anything you could think of was found along the trees and under the bridge.
Car parts, tent poles, shoes, clothing, dirty diapers, fishing gear, scrap metal, beer bottles, chairs and many more items of trash were found and collected.
Most of the garbage was found and picked up before it could break down into smaller pieces and create more environmental and ecological damage to the river and the surrounding habitats.
“The river cleanup was a huge success. We were able to remove a lot of trash before it begins to break down into small pieces and becomes even harder to remove and before the plastics and chemicals become one with our water” Red Wing City Council President Becky Norton said.
Although much of the large pieces of trash were removed from the area, many small pieces of trash and microplastics are stuck in the ground and will eventually wash into the waterways.
“There are still plenty of small pieces along the shore that will be hard to remove, but prevention is the best method,” Norton said.
By being conscious of the trash left behind and leaving areas better than we found them, the river can easily become a much healthier place.
“If we'd do two things this world would be a healthier place. First, pack in, pack out. And second, never say, not my mess, not my problem. My mom always said to me, when you borrow something, return it in as good or better condition than you found it,” Norton said.
“We are borrowing this earth for but a short moment, when we hike a trail, go fishing, take a walk, pick up one bag, or one piece of trash. It's a little ask and a little kindness we can do for each other and for Earth,” she continued.
Many entities came together to address this issue and actually do something about it. There will be additions of pack in, pack out signs in several languages and larger no parking signs along County Road 18.
Many of the volunteers and members of the community who wanted something to be done for so long were happy to see people coming together to try and fix the issue.
“Huge thanks to Prairie Island and the local residents for caring so much about this land that they didn't let this issue rest. Huge thanks to Linda Flanders for pushing the project through,” Norton said.
As fall draws closer and the cold of winter settles in, government officials and the volunteers are hoping that this cleanup and the education surrounding the issue sticks with the communities.
Next spring will bring high river levels and with less trash along the shore line there will be a cleaner river.