A (cleaner) river runs through it: Volunteers help clean banks of the Rock River

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Sunday, August 1, 2010
— Annette Little remembers walking in the Rock River in Janesville as a little girl, pulling trash out of the mud.

Decades later, the images are strong in her mind.

“I have such good memories of doing this with my dad,” Little said. “They lowered the river. It was wonderful.”

So when the Janesville woman heard about Saturday’s river cleanup, she was all over it. Little got her sister, her teenage daughter, her daughter’s friend and her niece to join her at 8 a.m.

About 30 volunteers showed up to clean the parks and other public areas along the river in the city. Another 20 took to the water in boats with the same mission upriver.

This cleanup was different from the one Little remembers. Volunteers were warned to stay out of the river, which is still above flood stage.

The river at Afton spiked up to 10.5 feet Saturday morning, well above the 9-foot flood stage at the gauge south of Janesville.

The effort was supposed to be a part of an effort all along the river’s 288 miles, from the Horicon Marsh to the mouth in Rock Island, Ill., but most areas called it off because of dangerous floodwaters, Peterson said.

Peterson warned the local volunteers not to step in the water.

The volunteers sweated in the cool, damp morning air and braved the famously large spiders that love to locate their webs along the river:

“Ew, ew, ewww! A big spider!” said Maddie Seichter, who blamed Little for the icky feelings but kept on working.

“Oh that smells! Oh, dear,” said Little’s sister, Teresa Flynn, as Little dropped a soggy camera bag into her trash bag.

Cigarette butts were the most common form of trash in the downtown segment of the river.

Elsewhere, a group that included jail inmates and Rock Aqua Jays cleaned up Traxler Park, while the Friends of Riverside Park took care of their turf. A Fourth Ward neighborhood group cleaned Monterey Park earlier in the week.

Peterson said about 30 bags of trash and eight bags of recyclables were picked up in Janesville. Most of that came from cleaning out debris stuck in storm sewers. Peterson noted that those sewers feed directly into the river.

Peterson hopes to establish a committee that will keep the cleanup going for years to come. He wants to get service groups to adopt segments of the river, much like the Adopt-a-Highway program.

Peterson wants to have the river drawn down to pick up the submerged trash one of these years, just as Little remembers so vividly from her youth.

The goal is to instill a sense of ownership.

“The more we talk about this, the less people will discard things in the river without thinking,” Peterson said.

That sense of ownership already exists, at least in small pockets. Little’s group was surprised by a woman driving by with a big smile who called out:

“Thank you!”

Last updated: 2:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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