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Judy Ettenhofer: Wisconsin River cleanup could use helping hands
By Judy Ettenhofer
The Capital Times

My river flows through the center of, and defines, this state. It makes a gentle curve about a mile from my house and draws me like a magnet to its shores. Too frequently, they aren't clean shores. My river - your river - needs a helping hand in keeping it pristine. So if you're not busy Saturday, maybe you'll consider joining the dozens of volunteers who will take to the waters of the lower Wisconsin River for a cleanup.

Many of the volunteers belong to an informal group of about 100 people with a passion for the river. They call themselves FLOW, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. Twice a year, in spring and fall, they pull debris from the water and collect trash from the sandbars and shores. They target the section of water from the Prairie du Sac dam to Spring Green but have an interest in the whole lower river, all the way to its confluence with the Mississippi.

FLOW co-chair Timm Zumm, who owns a cabin on the Wisconsin in the town of Mazomanie, says the group's informal structure allows members to focus on the river instead of board meetings. "We have a 'do it now' attitude," he said. "We're a group that takes action."

One recent action FLOW took fortuitously presented itself during this summer's drought, when the river dropped to the lowest level in 15 years. The low water exposed long pieces of angle iron that Zumm said were parts of three old utility towers. Decades ago the towers toppled into the river, near Mazo Beach. One frustration for river advocates is that the Department of Natural Resources, while concerned, has neither the jurisdiction nor the responsibility to pull this kind of hazardous debris from the river. So Zumm decided to take on the task. McFarland's Implement in Sauk City donated equipment, as did landscaper Todd Tiedeman of Mazomanie. Zumm's small group was able to remove some of the smaller metal tower parts but needs a larger winch to drag out the big pieces.

Water levels and weather conditions will determine the extent of Saturday's cleanup. Volunteers with canoes and johnboats are welcome, as are people with just a pair of gloves and a desire to help. The good folks who run Blackhawk Canoe Rental will provide canoes and shuttle service. Volunteers will be dropped off on sandbars to collect trash in garbage bags, then picked up. Those wishing to volunteer should gather at the Mazomanie Town Park on County Y at 9 a.m. You can call Zumm at 608-575-0325 for more information.

Saturday's river cleanup is part of the 10th annual National Public Lands Day, coordinated by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation. NEETF was chartered by Congress in 1990 to advance environmental education both for citizens and businesses. Nearly 80,000 volunteers will be at 500 sites across the nation Saturday, planting trees, clearing waterways, improving trails and pulling weeds.

This year's National Public Lands Day focus is improving and preserving habitats to maintain a rich diversity of animals, plants and birds. Besides the FLOW river cleanup, other activities in Wisconsin will be a trail relocation in the Chequamegon National Forest, urban tree planting in Milwaukee and prairie restoration at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center near Ashland.

If you can't join FLOW's project Saturday, consider grabbing a trash bag and patrolling the public terrace between the curb and sidewalk on your street. Whether it be city parks, state trails or national forests, we should be the guardians of our public lands.

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