Saving Sangamon

By Stephanie Taylor

The sunlight leaked through the forest’s green canopy as 169 volunteers made their way along the shady paths of the Sangamon River Valley in Monticello, Ill. The volunteers paused to take in the beauty of nature’s forestry, animal life and flowing waters. Then the volunteers got to work by removing pop cans, signs and car parts along the river’s banks.

Saturday marked the first annual Sangamon River Clean-Up Day sponsored by various organizations, including Archer Daniels Midland, City of Monticello, Allerton Park, Piatt County Forest Preserve, Prairie Rivers Network and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.

Volunteers from the Monticello and Champaign-Urbana communities united at the Monticello City Services Building in order to restore this stream-valley ecosystem.

The Sangamon River stretches 84 square miles across Macon and Piatt Counties. The area consists of 75 percent cropland, 14 percent grassland, 10 percent woodland, and a small fraction of wetland.

“The purpose is to clean up the river and to promote river recreation and stewardship,” said Derek Liebert of the Urbana Park District. “It also promotes stronger bonds between the community and river and local land agencies.”

Director of the project and Watershed Organizer, Kim Erndt, managed the event in hopes of connecting the community to the river. Since Sangamon River is an important resource to the community, preserving it allows people to work side by side while saving the ecosystem, Erndt explained.

Each of the volunteers was given a pair of work gloves, a big white bucket and a water bottle with a clip-on holder. They were then divided up into seven groups and dispersed to different land sites located in and between Lodge and Allerton Parks. From there, the groups would either walk or canoe through the river’s muddy waters and pick up all the trash they could carry.

Trash along the riversides ranged from small objects such as pop cans or bottles, to much bigger objects such as a bird feeder, pig feeder, highway sign, and even an entire car. Volunteers lifted and carried what they could while trying to maintain their balance on the river’s steep, muddy banks. They sang songs and joked around while trudging waste high through the river’s cloudy water collecting trash.

Erndt said he was impressed about the turnout of students from the Champaign-Urbana area. The University’s Volunteer Illini Projects was one organization that lent a hand with 22 volunteers.

“Volunteering to help the environment is what we’re all about,” said John Stanley, Volunteer Illini Projects environmental coordinator. “Taking what’s not natural out and preserving the environment is important.”

The volunteers demonstrated team effort as they worked to clean the river. They warned each other of poison ivy, helped each other up slippery riversides, dug up trash buried deep in the ground and helped each other carry the heavier objects found in the river.

With the help of these volunteers, the Sangamon River Valley’s ecosystem has been made healthier for the plants and wildlife that inhabit it.

Christie Barchenger, volunteer with Volunteer Illini Projects and sophomore in LAS, said she enjoyed preserving the beauty of the river valley.

“I think it’s important to keep the environment’s surroundings clean,” Barchenger said. “It’s also fun to go off campus and get a little muddy, it’s doing something different.”