Students join city clean-up

Graduate students Megan Cross and Grant Cooper pick up trash for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board's Earth Day cleanup at Lake of the Isles on Saturday. Members of the student group Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students decided to participate in the event to support Earth Day.

Juliet Farmer

Graduate students Megan Cross and Grant Cooper pick up trash for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s Earth Day cleanup at Lake of the Isles on Saturday. Members of the student group Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students decided to participate in the event to support Earth Day.

Allison Kronberg

Almost 2,000 people toted trash bags around Minneapolis on Saturday to clean up various neighborhoods, parks and bodies of water for Earth Day.
 
A few of the volunteers were members of the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students. They made it an event of their own to visit the Lake of the Isles cleanup site to help pick up trash and meet others in Minneapolis who are also interested in environmental issues.
 
The cleanup was initiated about two decades ago to raise awareness of state water quality issues, said Tom Godfrey, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s 
community outreach events supervisor.
 
Spring is a good time for a cleanup, he said, because trash moves toward bodies of water when the snow melts.
 
Since the cleanup’s inception, volunteers have picked up 140,000 pounds of garbage from about 40 different sites, Godfrey said. Cleanup sites include the Chain of Lakes, Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha, Powderhorn Lake, Diamond Lake, Shingle Creek, Minnehaha Creek, Bassett’s Creek and the Mississippi River.
 
“We were finding that there was quite a lot of litter,” said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board community outreach coordinator Erica Chua. “Cleaning up these areas really helps to secure the future of the waterways and to protect wildlife that lives along this river.”
 
Water quality has been discussed at length at the state Capitol this legislative session. Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a bill in March that would require 50 feet of vegetation, or buffer zones, around many bodies of water in the state to absorb pollutants.
 
Alex Roth, the vice president of the graduate student group who studies natural resources science and management, said the student group doesn’t advocate for or against any legislation. Instead, he said the group prefers to address environment issues through on-the-ground volunteer efforts like the cleanup.
 
“We try to do all kinds of volunteer events, but especially those that connect us with the community,” said Megan Cross, a fisheries and wildlife masters’ student and volunteer activity coordinator for the student group. 
 
The Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students was founded in 2012 to increase graduate student involvement in the community, Cross said, and it has since grown to at least 50 members. 
 
The student group tries to plan a volunteer activity about once a month, she said, but Saturday was the first time it’s volunteered for the Earth Day Cleanup.
 
Roth said he likes volunteer events like the cleanup because he’s able to meet people outside the University who are also concerned about the environment. 
 
“We do a good lot of connecting the ‘U’ to the community and showing that even while folks are just there for a few years to complete their degree, they still care about the community and the environment that they’re in,” he said.
 
The group may make the cleanup an annual event, Roth said. 
 
Chua said she was happy to have University students help at the event.
 
“We’re always really excited to have students involved,” she said. “It is a citywide effort, but it is always nice to see students caring about maintaining areas right near them.”