Boat motors, carpets, and an endless amount of scrap metal, that’s what nearly 270 volunteers spent their day cleaning out of the Maquoketa River. These volunteers are with Iowa Project AWARE, A Watershed Awareness River Expedition.
The group’s goal is to get Iowans more involved in water quality issues, through education and outreach. This all started 16 years ago when Brian Soenen, who is now the coordinator for the group, brought people together to clean out the Maquoketa. Since then, every year the group picks a different watershed and spends the week pulling out whatever trash they can find.
"The whole goal from the very beginning was to move around to different watersheds all over the state so that at some point we’d be in everyone’s back yard," said Soenen.
Some of the volunteers were local, while others like Amanda Losee traveled all the way from Ames and has been doing so for 14 years. "Working for a common good that is just really rewarding," says Losee.
Among the debris being pulled out from the depths of the river were items estimated to be from nearly a decade old, much from the 2010 flooding that effected the Lake Delhi area. "The floods happened and people banned together to clean up everything they could but some of this stuff you look at the equipment needed, the numbers of people and where it’s at, its just not possible," said Soenen.
Now, volunteers like Claire Chenoweth and her coworker Lily Heinzel are determined to change that. "My grandparents live on the Maquoketa River so this is like both symbolic and helping out," said Heinzel.
Chenoweth wants to warn Iowans, "Dumping things near the river is as big of a problem as (dumping) in it, because banks will erode and stuff up here will wind up in here. I think that’s probably how a lot of the tires get in here."
Soenen said this group has evolved into a community and it’s one Iowans can and should join. "The trash makes it way to the river in different ways across the state, I think we can all agree on is that it shouldn’t be there. This is stuff we can see, this is stuff we can do something about," said Soenen.
During the stop in Lyle Retz Memorial County Park volunteers estimated they had already collected seven tons of scrap metal alone. In total, Project AWARE estimates that by the end of the week they will have pulled out about 40 tons of trash from the river. Almost 80% of that trash is either recycled or re-purposed. For more information on how to get involved visit Iowa Project AWARE’s website and to get updates on projects visit their Facebook page.