Conservation Corps canoes to clean up Minnesota River

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Crew Members Kevin Sandborg (left), Katerina Gibson (middle) and Crew Leader Christina Basch (right) paddle to the boat landing at the intersection of Co. Rd. 14 and Co. Rd. 21. The three Conservation Corps members were part of a project to clean litter from the Minnesota River between Fort Ridgely and New Ulm. Kristina: Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Crew Leader Kristina Kirchhof holds a clothes iron and a net-bag of other trash the Conservation Corps members pulled out of the Minnesota River Tuesday.

FORT RIDGELY — A fleet of canoes full of conservationists paddled down the Minnesota River from Fort Ridgely to New Ulm Tuesday. But it was more than just a pleasure trip.

They were members of the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, specifically the southern district. The corps members were cleaning up trash from the river as a midterm project.

“We actually got the idea from Iowa,” District Field Coordinator Zach Dieterman said. “They do a project called Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition), which is a river cleanup like this. The last couple of years we have just done it on our own with our crews and picked a 12 or 15 mile stretch of the Minnesota River or a river in this area and have done a trash cleanup.”

The Conservation Corps has two branches: youth (15-18) and young adult (18-25). Tuesday young adults were dredging clothes irons, metal frames, TVs and more from the river and back to shore.

By removing trash from the river, the corps makes it safer and more appealing for family recreation.

“Families that come down to an access like this to enjoy putting in a canoe, they do not have to worry about their kid stepping on hooks, like one of our folks stepped on, or seeing booze bottles or beer cans or just people’s trash,” Assistant Manager Dustin Looman said.

The corps’ work also restores natural habitats to a healthier status and teaches members stewardship and work skills through hands-on environmental stewardship.

“That is the reason why I joined, just to kind of look back and see what it used to be like and kind of restore it to see how cool it was,” Crew Leader Kristina Kirchhof said.

This is Kirchhof’s second year, the first as a crew leader. She helped clean the river last year as well, but this year was different.

“It was eye-opening in a way, because we did it last year and last year (the river) was really high so we did not see as much garbage,” Kirchhof said.

The Conservation Corps pays members a living stipend during their roughly 10 month term, Looman said.

On top of that, corps members get an education award. That can help pay for future education or loans from previous degrees.

To join the young adults it takes a high-school education, willingness to work long days and a desire to give back, Looman said.

“I think that it is an important organization and it is something people should be more aware of and get out there and do because it is important,” Kirchhof said. “Restoring our environment is just an awesome thing.”

For more information go to conservationcorps.org. The application process for next year will probably start in October Looman said.