What will volunteers pull out of the DuPage River this year?

 
By Annalisa Rodriguez
arodriguez@dailyherald.com
Updated 5/17/2012 12:40 PM
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  • The DuPage River Sweep covered nearly 40 miles of shoreline in 2011 and a record 625 volunteers removed more than nine tons of trash. On Saturday, 630 volunteers are expected to participate in the project.

    The DuPage River Sweep covered nearly 40 miles of shoreline in 2011 and a record 625 volunteers removed more than nine tons of trash. On Saturday, 630 volunteers are expected to participate in the project. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

  • Roughly 8,180 volunteers have participated in the DuPage River Sweep since 1991. Volunteers can remove trash from the river by canoe or kayak, clean shorelines or restore land along waterways to its natural state by removing invasive species.

    Roughly 8,180 volunteers have participated in the DuPage River Sweep since 1991. Volunteers can remove trash from the river by canoe or kayak, clean shorelines or restore land along waterways to its natural state by removing invasive species. Daily Herald File Photo

Shopping carts, safes, car engines, old computers, microwaves -- you name it, and Ray Ziemer has found it in the DuPage River.

Ziemer will be back at it from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, May 19, serving as a community liaison in the 21st annual DuPage River Sweep to coordinate volunteers in a mission to rid the waterway of trash.

Last year's countywide sweep, conducted under the auspices of the DuPage Conservation Foundation, encompassed nearly 40 miles of shoreline along the East and West branches of the DuPage River and Salt Creek. This year, 630 volunteers are expected to participate in the cleanup, Sue George, coordinator and Naperville community liaison, said.

Roughly 8,180 volunteers have participated in the project since 1991. In 2011, more than nine tons of trash were removed by a record 625 volunteers.

"Over the past 21 years, we've collected more than 210 tons of trash, so that has a consistent impact year after year," George said.

Ziemer has served as a community liaison for 10 years. As a Prairie State Canoeists member, he will lead a group of paddlers down the West Branch to collect trash and other unwanted items.

Ziemer said a lot of people consider the river a ditch behind their backyard, and don't appreciate its beauty or realize the impact it has on their communities until they get out there themselves.

"Everybody's always shocked at how much green space there is and how much wildlife there is," he said.

Awareness is an important aspect of the river sweep. The project also has a direct impact on residents by increasing water quality and decreasing the risk of floods.

"Aside from the actual picking up of trash and making the river more aesthetically enjoyable, it makes it safer," Ziemer said.

Volunteers this year will be able to work at numerous locations, including Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville, Hitchcock Woods Forest Preserve in Lisle, Hidden Oaks Conservation Area in Bolingbrook, Morton Arboretum in Lisle and the Nature Center in Itasca.

Community liaisons will provide volunteers with garbage bags, work gloves and trash pokers. Volunteers who plan to work in the water must bring their own canoe or kayak. Others can clean along shorelines or help remove invasive species.

Those interested in volunteering should visit theconservationfoundation.org/sweep for a complete list of cleanup and restoration sites and for instructions on how to register. Volunteers can register until Saturday morning.

Kathi Landow serves as a trail steward and has been working on the same stretch of river since 2000. Last year, a member of her group, Tom Eckles, pulled out a hand-washing station, the kind found at outdoor festivals and concerts, and lugged it in his canoe to a site where the garbage is collected.

"It probably took half of the people that were there," Landow said. "I just saw Tom with a huge smile on his face and this big, huge thing in his canoe."

The sweep also has an impact on habitat quality. Volunteers can participate in restoration, which includes bringing lands near the waterways to their natural state by removing invasive plant species.

Since adding restoration activities to the river sweep in 2009, volunteers have removed invasive species such as buckthorn, garlic mustard and honeysuckle from land near the waterways.

The goal is to maintain and increase the native habitats, so what's in Illinois can stay in Illinois, George said.

The seemingly little actions taken on a daily basis have an impact on the river over time, organizers said. It might not seem like a big deal to throw a small piece of trash into the river, but things add up.

"The thing that strikes me most is the sheer number of plastic bottles (along the shorelines and in the river)," Ziemer said. "If we didn't clean it up year after year, you wouldn't be able to walk anywhere."

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