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Volunteers sought to help clean up Vermillion River on Sept. 25

The Spring Lake Cleanup is done, but there's another opportunity for those nature-minded people to help keep our environment clean.

The Vermillion Stewards are hosting a cleanup event Sept. 25 at CP Adams Park.

"It's a really fun park to have a cleanup," said Friends of the Mississippi River volunteer coordinator Sue Rich.

It's a pleasant park to be in, she said, and there are paved trails for those who don't want to dig through the brush as well as the scientific and natural area for people who want to get off the pavement.

"It's a nice fit for a lot of different people," Rich said.

Volunteers will primarily work in the park, but some will venture to the Vermillion River. The Rapids Riders will be on the water upstream in their canoes and kayaks, while about 15 Hastings High School students will join their teacher, Joe Beattie, in chest waders to clean up the scientific natural area in the park.

This isn't the first park cleanup.

"We've been doing an annual fall cleanup at CP Adams Park," Rich said. "It's a nice time to do it."

Cleaning in the fall allows volunteers to pick up after most of the summer parties are over, and before the leaves cover everything and before the snow cements junk into the ground.

"It just gets harder to pull things out when they've sat there for a season," Rich explained.

The event is still a few weeks away, but the Vermillion Stewards require volunteers to register ahead of time. Why?

"Often people have several different ideas of registration spots," Rich said.

Everyone who registers will get a detailed e-mail describing what volunteers need to bring and where they need to go. Registration also determines how much staff is needed. Another reason is for supplies.

"We need to know how many supplies we need," Rich said.

There are some who might shy away from cleanup events because they think they're not strong enough to pick up heavy items that get dumped. But cleanup isn't just about the big things.

"We always stress that picking up smaller items is just as important," Rich said. "Sometimes even more so than picking up larger items."

Things such as bits of plastic or cigarette butts can do more damage than expected, because of their size. Animals can ingest them and rainwater is more likely to wash them into the river.

"Cigarette butts are, in particular, very toxic to water quality and very toxic to marine life," Rich explained.

In the bigger picture, pollution in the Gulf of Mexico primarily comes from the Mississippi. Oil spills are tragic, Rich said, but the pollution they cause doesn't come close to matching river pollutants. Between 50 and 70 percent of the oil in the gulf comes from river, she said, because of the substances that drop into it through storm drains and litter.

Helping clean up the park is just one example of local action affecting a wider problem.

"This really, really is a fun way to impact a lot of things," Rich said. "And there's pizza."

That's right, pizza. Volunteers will be treated to pizza at the end of the cleanup - which is another reason to register. Staff needs to know how much to get, to make sure everyone who shows up to help gets to enjoy lunch.