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Help on the water: Nature center employees, volunteers clean up Austin’s waterways

By Natasha Willey

Volunteers walked around Austin’s Mill Pond Friday with overflowing garbage bags as a few canoes drifted along shore seeking out trash and volunteers in another canoe used a hook to scoop up trash from the bottom of the pond.

To nature center intern Jacob Burkhart, the work showed it doesn’t have to be difficult to cut down the amount of trash that gets into Austin waterways.

“You don’t have to be super hippie about it,” Burkhart said. “Just be aware of how your choices are affecting the environment.”

The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center just hosted its third annual Water Festival, which ended Friday with crews cleaning up some of Austin’s waterways.

All week, the nature center had events explaining why clean water is important.

Jacob Burckhart and Kyra Olson pick garbage from a great on the shore of Mill Pond Friday morning. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Jacob Burckhart and Kyra Olson pick garbage from a great on the shore of Mill Pond Friday morning. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Nature center naturalist intern Ben Sherman led Friday’s Clean Water Service Day where he and volunteers gathered trash from Mill Pond, East Side Lake and Dobbins Creek.

“All the little things we’re doing today can make a big impact in the area,” Sherman said.

Volunteers picked up plastic bottles, cans and Styrofoam, with some tennis balls and soft balls as well.

Sherman said it’s important to get the trash out of the water before it starts to break down because it can hurt the ecosystem.

“Everyone can take part and make sure we make the water better for everyone,” Sherman said.

The clean up crew used six canoes on the water with more volunteers walking to find trash. There were about 20 volunteers in total.

“We’re all very appreciative of all the help,” Sherman said.

Collected garbage rests in the bottom of a canoe at Mill Pond. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Collected garbage rests in the bottom of a canoe at Mill Pond. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Burkhart’s team picked up a few garbage bags worth of trash in just two hours.

“It makes it hard for anyone to live here or humans to enjoy it,” Burkhart said.

Along with the water cleanup in the morning, crews also completed water testing throughout the day. Maria Anderson, a naturalist at the nature center, lead the testing on the pond and Dobbins Creek.

They checked levels of nitrates, phosphates, dissolved oxygen, E. coli and turbidity to gauge water health. Other events that went on last week included three concerts by Minnesota native singer/songwriter Peter Mayer, a nature play and project update on the Cedar River Watershed District’s five-year Capital Improvement Project.

Sherman hopes the community knows that water cleanup can happen whenever.

“It doesn’t just have to be today or the nature center or it’s volunteers,” Sherman said. “Anyone can come out any time and clean the parks.”

Go to www.hormelnaturecenter.org to learn more about what other events the nature center hosts all year long.