Mike Anderson believes the recognition he received as a Field & Stream magazine “Hero of Conservation” in 2009 is best shared with others.

He was honored at the time for cleaning miles and miles of the St. Croix River and Mississippi River shorelines. Anderson created an online inventory of all the refuse he and his wife, Julie, came across.

“We float the river, mark each item with a digital snapshot and GPS waypoint, then upload the data,” Anderson told the magazine. That allowed for “targeted cleanups,” he said. The data went up on his blog at the time.

Anderson, then of Crystal, Minn., has since moved to the Southeast, and his CleanUpTheRiver effort has run its course. Yet, he maintains ties to the Midwest and the resources he worked to protect.

“The heroes of conservation are anyone who decides to do anything that cleans up our collective act,” said Anderson, a media company executive. “ … Conservation is common sense. It’s leaving a place better than you found it. It doesn’t take heroes. It just takes people who care and prepared to do a little something.”

In an e-mail interview, Anderson, 56, talked about the magazine honor and dug deeper into the legacy of his commitment to protecting the outdoors. Here are edited excerpts:

 

Did the recognition as a Hero of Conservation have any immediate effect on your life?

The recognition itself did not. But the experience that led to that recognition had a profound effect on the way I look at the world and appreciate my surroundings. Over the years of this project, my wife, Julie, and I were able to clean up roughly 56 shoreline miles of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. And during that time, we saw some amazing places and met so many fascinating people. For example, Joe Rauscher owns Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul. When he heard what my wife and I were doing, he provided us with two nice kayaks to help. (“These will be safer than the one you’re using,” he said.) When I asked what he wanted for them, he said, “Nothing. Just bring them back when you’re done with them.” We used them for three full years. Three Rivers Parks District gave us amazing access and cooperation. And we got e-mails from all over the country where people were trying to emulate the kind of work we were doing, after reading about our project on a blog we had at the time.

How has CleanUpTheRiver changed in the years since?

Well, I ended up having surgery on some torn muscles in fall 2009. That caused me to pull back. A short time later, Minneapolis Parks & Recreation took an interest, and asked for our GPS-gathered debris field maps we had created along the Mississippi River. It set out to address many of those sites where the riverfront was being redeveloped from Rice Park in Fridley to Boom Island.

Any notable current projects/efforts?

Well, I’m not rolling safes or discarded appliances up riverbanks anymore. But one of the things I learned is that conservation begins with appreciation; the more we can expose people to these wonderful resources, the better chance they have of falling in love with a lake, a stream, a forest, and the more likely they’ll become stewards. With that in mind, I still love to hike and kayak, and I’ve developed an appreciation for natural photography. I still have a blog that allows me to share some of what I’ve had the privilege to see.

Any other state nonprofits or groups that you admire that work to engage young people in the outdoors?

After our work was recognized, I nominated Tom Koshiol and his (Crow River) Trail Guards project for the same citation. He’s helping the next generation of conservation stewards appreciate what we have. And I have the utmost respect for Paul Nordell and the entire staff involved with the Adopt- a-River program at the Minnesota DNR. That program was originally launched by Gov. Rudy Perpich back in the early ’90s, and it’s what sparked the idea for the first river cleanup I was involved with back in 1993: a sweep of the headwaters of the Mississippi River near Bemidji.

What’s a personal favorite trip or activity in Minnesota’s outdoors or beyond?

You know, I’m just happy to get on the water, hike through the woods, or go walking down a trail with my wife and my camera. We own a cabin near Danbury, Wis., now … and we love having our kids and grandkids come to visit and share those surroundings. We’re planning to keep the cabin as our connection to the amazing, natural environments we’ve come to love here in Minnesota and Wisconsin.