Volunteers get dirty to clean the river

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z Volunteers get dirty to clean the riverBy Andrew Sroka andrew.sroka@winonadailynews.com Winona Daily News

For 33 years, volunteers have journeyed through the mud and muck to keep Winona’s portion of the Mississippi River clean and free of pollutants near Latsch Island in Winona as part of the Mississippi River Revival program.

On Saturday, students from Saint Marys University’s Biology Club and Winona State University’s Environmental Club were among the volunteers who trekked into the woods and marsh bordering Wisconsin in an effort to rid the area of old and unused railroad ties off of the river’s shore. The railroad ties are soaked in creosote and oil which can contaminate the water it comes in contact with.

“After today, we’ll have removed tons of railroad ties, which are endangering the habitat,” said Richie Swanson, the event’s site coordinator. The ties will be given to BNSF Railway to be recycled.

Swanson also received the help of the Living Lands and Waters, an environmental organization based out of East Moline, Ill. With 11 full-time employees, Living Lands works with organizations like Mississippi Revival to refurbish the river’s banks from St. Paul to New Orleans, La.

Ashley Stover, one of the program coordinators representing Living Lands at Saturday’s event, led a group of students through a river bank laden with discarded railroad ties.

“A lot of things (about Living Lands and Water) are fun. Meet a lot people, get to travel a lot,” Stover said.

According to Stover, it was her third or fourth year in Winona for the revival project.

One of the students accompanying Stover along the bank was Kyle Weiseler, 18, a freshman at WSU.

Weiseler was one of the few WSU student volunteers to make the trip out early Saturday morning but he was among the most eager to get his hands dirty.

“My family is deeply-rooted in this type of work,” Weiseler said, a biology major. “I’ve always been into clean up and prairie restoration. I’m fine with working in a lab but I like the outdoors.”

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(3) Comments

  1. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 09, 2013 4:45 am
    Sorry, old mill, but those are BN ties. The BN runs right through there. The idea that SOO Line ties floated across and downriver in any large number is a dubious proposition. How did they get from floating in the main channel to deep into the backwaters on the other side? And the BN knows it, which is why they are cooperating.

    I don't recall any boating accidents in the main channel lately involving floating railroad ties.

    And why are the clean-up crews always on the BN side of the river, not the SOO line side?

    If you think the river was cleaner, or clean enough, before, some old river rats might disagree. And those ties are loaded with creosote, which is not good for any living thing.

    Besides, everything looks better after a clean-up. Bless these hard working volunteers, many of whom are college kids, not even from this area.
  2. OldMillXxX
    Report Abuse
    OldMillXxX - September 08, 2013 4:32 pm
    What happened to plastics and other actual "trash" being the problem? Now wood is bad? I think this is a great thing, but a railroad tie, really? Old lumber? Dead, processed trees? These things have been lying around for years. They weren't a problem at the time of use when the chemicals listed were strongest? Rains didn't wash anything into the river at that time? Again, don't get me wrong, river cleanup is a great thing, but time could be better spent on actual trash items. Plenty of that out there.

    As to easy's comment...Did the ties have labels that said BNSF on them? Not SOO Line or any of the other companies up stream? The article states BNSF will be doing the recycling, not that the ties came from them. They were in the river; wind, current, and waves could have forced them to come from anywhere.
  3. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 08, 2013 3:03 am
    The BN railroad should spring for a sizable donation to the groups that are doing the cleanup -- every one of those ties is their responsibility, and their failure to dispose of them properly. That is just sloppy and lazy work from maintenance crews.
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