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Rapids Riders clear about 75 bags of trash from Vermillion River area

This year’s cleanup was one of the biggest ever, with volunteers coming from Wisconsin to help out. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
This year, the club removed about 75 bags full of trash from the Vermillion River and surrounding parkland. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Volunteers climbed steep cliffs to pick up trash tossed over the edges of the gorge. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)3 / 3

Rapids Riders Whitewater Club is a nonprofit club dedicated to teaching whitewater kayaking and canoing. The club uses its money to give back to the rivers.

In 2000, the Rapids Riders joined up with the state’s Adopt a River Program and adopted the Vermillion River, a beautiful, much loved stretch of whitewater in the middle of Hastings. For 17 years they have met each fall to clean the river and surrounding park.

People sometimes wonder if they can make a difference in this world. The club’s answer is “yes, you can!” In the 17 years they have cleaned the park and river, they have removed over 20,000 pounds of trash.

How is that possible? The first decade or so the club would have a bike count of about 30 bikes each year. Bikes in a whitewater river are extremely dangerous to swimmers. They can cut a person or tangle them and hold them underwater. The left cliff was littered with scrap iron. Club leaders told volunteers to take what they could, that they would get more next year. Most of the iron is now removed. One year the city installed beautiful light poles along the paths. Vandals figured out that they were resin and cut them down and threw them in the river. The Rapids Riders removed them all.

There have been many appliances in and along the river over the years. To get them up the cliffs, volunteers use ropes and climbing skills to raise them to the top.

Volunteers have even removed a motorcycle.

Sometimes the trash tells a story, such as the annual pile of pint-sized booze bottles that a person had been leaving in one spot. One year, the club found a pile of about 200 used syringes. That was reported to the police for them to clean up and the problem was solved. The empty spray cans also tell a story.

The amount of trash removed each year is gauged by the number of trash bags filled. This year, volunteers used about 75 bags. Anything that doesn’t fit into a bag has its weight estimated.

Over the years, the Rapids Riders say they have seen the park blossom into a beautiful destination. The addition of more bike paths makes it easier for everyone to enjoy the park while it still holds onto its wilderness feel.

If you are interested in learning to paddle rivers like the Vermillion, you can learn more at

Submitted by Rapids Riders Whitewater Club.