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Little River Cleanup needs volunteers

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

Huntington County’s Soil and Water Conservation District plans to host a little river cleanup, as one step in a much bigger project.

SWCD is inviting Huntington County residents to take part in lending a hand to the community through cleaning up the waterways on September 15 from 8:30 a.m. until 12.

Volunteers will first meet at the Historic Forks of the Wabash for registration if they haven’t already pre-registered and sign-in, as they all must fill out a liability form.

From there, they will be shuttled to Elmwood Park where the cleanup will begin. Volunteers will wade through the river and the banks of the river, retrieving any trash to put in their trash bags. There will also be jon boats to store larger objects.

The cleanup will cover about a 1 ½ mile stretch of the river, ending back at the Forks of the Wabash.

Collin Huffine, watershed coordinator for SWCD, said they will then take an inventory of what was collected and the City of Huntington will provide dumpsters on site for disposal.

Huffine added that there will be a lunch provided upon arrival back at the Forks and a speaker will be present to talk about the history of the Forks for those who want to stick around.

This cleanup event, however, is just the start of a SWCD watershed project made possible by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

Huffine explained that SWCD has received a grant from IDEM to focus on creating a watershed management plan for an area in Huntington, where they will try to find areas within the watershed that are in need of conservation to help improve water quality.

One of the first steps in the project is to get the community informed and involved.

“A part of the project is education and outreach with the public – to try to get them involved in the project, to get them to care about the local resources,” he said. “One way we do that is by coordinating these river clean ups. So that’s part of my job is coordinating these efforts, especially the education and outreach side of things, to try to get the local community invested and involved in their local resources.”

The cleanup coming this weekend is one of the first public events to do just that.

The 1 ½ mile cleanup stretch is a small southwest portion of the area that will make up the project, but Huffine said the project itself is 228,000 acres, or about 357 square miles, covering portions of Allen, Whitley, Wabash, Huntington and Wells counties.

Following the cleanup, the next step in the project is to complete surveys of the project area.

Huffine said they plan to try to characterize the area and gather data on what is going on within the watershed and surrounding landscape in order to try to identify where critical areas lie. This information will also help them to effectively focus implementation dollars to improve water quality the best they can.

“Right now I’m starting to plan out the methodology for these surveys we’re going to be doing and then here in the late fall after harvest has occurred for farmers, we’ll go survey the project area and start to collect that data,” Huffine explained.

As for why he thinks the community should take part in the cleanup, Huffine said it’s important to take part in ensuring we are conserving valuable resources.

“I think a lot of the time we can take for granted our drinking water and all of the resources we have available to us, but what we really need to do is focus individually and collectively in ensuring that we are protecting and conserving those resources,” Huffine said. “Because they are influenced by our actions. The cleanup and the project itself is one way to get involved in helping to protect our local waterways and local water quality.”

Trash bags and gloves will be provided to volunteers. Huffine said they ask that volunteers wear close-toed shoes.To pre-register or for more information, call Huffine at 765-914-2324 or SWCD at 260-356-6818 ext. 3.