Volunteers brave cold, help clean river

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Jessica Schuh

By Jessica Schuh

Staff writer

A record number of volunteers participated in the seventh annual Salt Fork River Cleanup Saturday morning. More than 200 people braved the cool weather to help remove debris and trash from the river and the surrounding area.

“We had many more (volunteers) than expected, which is great,” said Maggie Bruns, senior in ACES and organizer of the event.

There were more volunteers at the cleanup than in any previous year, said Jean Flemma, director of Prairie Rivers Network.

“(The large turnout) demonstrates how much people care about the Salt Fork River,” Flemma said.

Flemma said she thinks the cleanup is important because the river is a valuable local resource.

“It shows that if you give people the opportunity to go and do something on the river, they want to do it,” she said.

The event was sponsored by Prairie Rivers Network, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Salt Fork River Partners and the Izaak Walton League of Champaign County.

Volunteers checked in at the Homer Lake Forest Preserve near Homer, Ill., at 8:30 a.m. and went to one of six cleanup sites along the Salt Fork River. Each person registered and filled out a liability waiver at check-in.

Participants cleaned up any trash they found at their site, which has included large items such as furniture and refrigerators in the past. This year, the volunteers had to remove a couch that someone had discarded.

Some participants canoed the river while others cleaned the areas around the river.

One group of volunteers picked up trash at the old Homer Lake Trail site, a wooded area along the bank of the river.

Paul Hixson, director of Information Technology and Community Services in ACES, and his wife, Jennifer, along with other volunteers, picked up shards of glass that people had dumped in the woods. They dug through the dirt with their gloved hands, putting the glass into white buckets that all volunteers carried with them.

The river cleanup is a good event because it helps restore the environment and makes it easier for people to enjoy the natural area, Paul Hixson said. It also increases participants’ awareness and sensitivity for the environment and promotes environmental stewardship, he said.

“It’s like we’re looking at scars on the land that other careless people have put there,” he said.

Jennifer Hixson said she thinks the event helps people feel a connection to the land.

“We have to instill that in the youth because there’s going to be less and less of this (natural) area left,” she said.

Several service and volunteer organizations were among those participating in the event.

Members of the McKinley Presbyterian Foundation participated in the event, in part, because October is “Make a Difference Month,” said Deborah Owen, interim campus minister at the foundation.

“Presbyterians certainly take the environment very seriously,” Owen said. “This is the environment we all live in, and we want to keep it clean.”

Urbana resident Ralph Langenheim was at the cleanup for the second time. He said the event is a good opportunity for people who want to be kind to nature.

“I think it’s a rewarding activity,” Langenheim said.