Volunteers picked up four tons of trash along Minnehaha Creek and lakes Nokomis and Hiawatha on Sunday morning.
Four tons. Eight thousand pounds. One hundred twenty-eight thousand ounces. That's about the weight of a blue whale calf, or a female African elephant, or a little over 2½ pallets of red brick.
That's a lot of trash.
The haul included those insidious bits of paper and candy wrappers that catch in the weeds, bottles and cans, tires and rims, and one canoe with registration dating back to the 1970s that's probably been in the creek for decades, said Telly Mamayek, a spokeswoman for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.
For the ninth annual creek cleanup, a total of about 1,600 volunteers gathered at Lake Hiawatha Park in Minneapolis, the event headquarters, and at the Knollwood SuperTarget parking lot in St. Louis Park, starting at 8 a.m., then set out with bags for trash and bags for recycling. Volunteers also were sent to Cottageville Park in Hopkins and Creekside Park in St. Louis Park, Mamayek said.
The Creekside Park location was added in 2014, she said. That had been the most degraded stretch of the creek and the Watershed District has worked to restore it. Now, that stretch is called the Minnehaha Creek Preserve and expanded from 3,000 to 4,600 feet of shoreline by adding back curves that had been straightened out for development. Paved trails attract visitors to its "wilderness" feeling, Mamayek said.
Volunteers included moms and dads with their kids, grandparents and teenagers. Some were on foot, and some used donated-for-the-event paddleboards and canoes to clean trash from Lake Hiawatha.
"It is so fun to see all the families come out," Mamayek said. "They bring their children. They want to instill in their children a sense of stewardship. We incentivize the collection of those little bits of paper. … We give special prizes for the most candy wrappers collected. The kids really like that. It's a good time."
A radiator like one you'd find in an old house probably ended up in the creek because someone dumped it there, Mamayek said. The same for the tires and rims. The canoe, which had a crack in it, was probably abandoned or not pulled out of the water earlier because it was just too hard to get out.
Everything that can be recycled will be recycled, thanks to the cleanup's new vendor, 1800GOTJUNK. The canoe, too, went to a volunteer who said he could patch it and use it again. Other sponsors included Target, the Freshwater Society and Metro Blooms.
After the cleanup, volunteers were treated to a barbecue lunch donated by Leinenkugel's, a longtime sponsor of the cleanup. There was a celebration and a grand prize, decided by a game of heads or tails. The prize? A canoe — a nice, shiny, brand-new one.
"We're so fortunate to have so many dedicated people," Mamayek said. "All of the hard work our volunteers put in today. They really got in there and rolled up their sleeves and got dirty. Really dirty."