Flood waters are receding but trash continues to pile up along the Minnesota River. For years, trash left behind by fishermen and now garbage from upstream has found its way into the rip rap rock along the river behind Prentice Street. In just a small roughly 6x6 area pieces of plastic, several candy and food wrappers, multiple bottles, cans, containers and several pieces of furniture foam are visible. Most of the trash has washed up from the flood waters however there were bottles and fishing gear, is evidence to what was recently left behind. Trash recently tossed or washed in from the flood waters, it is not a pretty sight.
This reporter spent about 15 minutes picking up trash and not a dent was made. While not as bad as near the Legion area plastic bags and bottles are visible along Minnesota Avenue. Seeing the pelicans and ducks along the river surrounded by bottles and wrappers is a sad sight. Even more upsetting due to the fact that garbage cans are within twenty feet from where most of the trash was strewn about. A larger community effort would need to be made to clean up all the trash currently present. To prevent additional litter in the future appropriate steps need to be taken by individuals to properly dispose of trash.
There is a small grass picnic area at the end of 9th Street near Almichs Market, a nice gathering space along the backwaters of the Minnesota River. Sadly, it was more of the same but much worse. Dozens of bottles, miscellaneous wires, boxes, wrappers, and large pieces of styrofoam all distract from the surroundings. Some of the trash had washed up from the flood but most of it was left recently or is unrelated to flooding. Closer to the water are boxes and containers in new condition, like they had just been tossed there yesterday. This reporter noticed that there is not a trash can at this location, which might explain the large amounts of trash, but a clean up in this area is an urgent need regardless of future plans for prevention.
A visit to Memorial Park was more of the same. Initially there didn’t appear to be a lot of newer trash, which was encouraging, yet the number of bottles and wrappers washed up from flood is certainly visible. Trash lined the entire riverbank area from the stone shelter house well past the small playground and further down the trail yet. Last week some of the trash was removed in the area around the shelter house and the parking lot, however along the riverbank most of the trash still remains. Just a few feet down the trail along the river lay the same cluster of bottles and other garbage with the addition to a fishing pole, more plastic bottles, and a board with nails sticking out of it.
It was sad to see that new trash had found its way to Memorial Park, similar to the other locations, in such a short period of time. The area that was cleaned up was only partially cleaned. Crews removed most of the piles of debris that had washed up during the flood but left the items that were not in the larger piles. This left bottles and other pieces of trash spread out in a large area along the river, mostly around and past the small playground area. Some of the trash found its way into the woods behind the park and along the trail.
The environmental group CURE used to organize a cleanup event a few times a year in the area where volunteers picked up trash along the Minnesota River. Recently CURE has moved away from such a local focus and toward larger issues that impact areas of Minnesota. The CURE cleanup event hasn’t been held for several years and there hasn’t been a river cleanup event of that caliber organized since. Peg Furshong who joined CURE in August of 2012 as the Operations & Program Director is based out of the Montevideo CURE office.
“We sometimes work with local groups to help with cleanups but we have really started to focus on larger state issues and legislation,” said Furshong, discussing the cleanup events CURE used to hold. Adding, “We have cleanup supplies and vests we could donate if any group was interested in organizing an event… but we really have moved away from being a local organizer. Our main focus right now is on climate and some other bigger issues impacting the state.” No local organization has stepped up to hold a cleanup effort in recent years with the exception of last summer when a few individuals turned out to assist in cleaning the riverfront behind the popcorn stand. After five hours the trio of individuals pulled trash from the rip-rap rock spanning from the Dam to the river walk entry.
The City of Granite Falls is planning to take action soon. Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski provided a statement saying, “We hope to have a final flood damage assessment viewing from FEMA this week. That will determine how much of our repair costs will be reimbursed. Meanwhile we have plans in place for clean-up and repairs.” The areas of focus and the scope of the cleanup effort is unknown at this time but it’s safe to assume the target areas will be the rip-rap rock along the river downtown and the riverbank area at Memorial Park.
While some clean up efforts will soon be underway by the City, it’s important that fishermen, outdoor recreationists, and people spending time along the river properly dispose of their garbage, and continue to do it after the upcoming clean up efforts. Unsightly trash is an environmental hazard, creates a poor image for those visiting the community as well as all who call Granite Falls home.