Environmental studies club takes out the trash in St. Paul

The annual cleanup took approximately two hours and filled 13 garbage bags.

Alan Butterworth

Approximately 20 students found pop cans, pacifiers, shoes, candy wrappers, umbrellas, a baseball bat and a lot of Minnesota State Fair cups on a wetland Saturday near the St. Paul campus.

The Environmental Studies Club cleaned up the Sarita Wetland Saturday morning. The cleanup – which takes place annually – took nearly two hours and filled 13 garbage bags.

“We’re doing the clean up because we’re trying to encourage the ‘U’ to actually use the wetland for something other than just letting it go to waste,” said environment and natural resources student Vicki Kalkirtz.

The Sarita Wetland is a tiny remnant of former Lake Sarita, covering 3.5 acres. During rainstorms, the wetland receives water carrying garbage and other debris from surrounding areas.

Keeping the Sarita Wetland clean is the first step of a larger conservation effort.

“Water from Sarita goes directly into the Mississippi,” said James Perry, a professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“We’re having an impact on the Mississippi (River) in the way we manage our campus and the wetlands,” Perry said.

As well as being a valuable wildlife habitat, Environmental Studies Club president Katie Roth said she sees the wetland as an important resource for the University.

“It’s there and we should be protecting it rather than letting it get filled up with garbage,” Roth said.

“The biggest problem is that the campus has become impervious to water,” said Greg Archer, public health specialist with the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

Water runs off the surface instead of going down into the groundwater, which means pollutants are washed down into the wetland, Archer said.

The rapidly fluctuating water level results in exposed mud banks or deep water that drown terrestrial plants. To counter

this, the University is currently building a holding pond at the upper end of the wetland.

When the water goes into that system, it is stored and released slowly. This will control the water level fluctuations in the Sarita Wetland, Perry said.

Recreation Resource Management Club president Brady Howe said he thinks the wetland holds a lot of educational and research opportunities for University students.

“It’s nice because you can go there for classes,” Howe said.

He said many people think the College of Natural Resources is in an urban area where students cannot apply what they learn in the classroom.

“Going out there for a lot of classes, you get to actually see stuff up close, which really helps,” Howe said.

State fair

During rainstorms, the Sarita Wetland receives runoff from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, which carries a lot of litter.

“We picked up one or two bags just full of state fair cups,” Roth said.

To improve this, the state fair and the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture announced a deal in September.

Under the deal, the college aims to carry out environmental studies of storm water, waste flows and transportation issues. It hopes to make the state fair more environmentally sustainable.

“By working with the state fair to deal with storm water and runoff, it’ll help to deal with the Sarita Wetlands as well as dealing with waste and trash,” said Tom Fisher, dean of the college.

“The state fair has a number of small projects that are ideal for students to work on,” Fisher said.

“This is a way to demonstrate to the public some of the things we do and some of the latest research design work we do here at the college,” he said.

“We felt that by partnering with the state fair we could also improve the environment on campus,” he said.

Improvements include porous parking areas that would allow water to percolate back into the groundwater.

Fisher said he hopes the first efforts will be built next year.