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Vermillion residents, students clear debris from banks of Missouri

University of South Dakota students and Vermillion community members were lending a helping hand Saturday at the Missouri River cleanup, hosted by the National Park Service.

The river cleanup has been going on for nearly 10 years in Yankton, but this was the first time it was brought to Vermillion, said Kevin O’Kelley, director of Environmental Health and Safety.

Volunteers gathered at the Clay County boating area on the river early Saturday morning for registration and breakfast.

As families, students and Clay County locals signed their waivers and chose their T-shirt sizes, a brief announcement was given by NPS officials covering the expectations and instructions for the clean-up.

A total of 80 volunteers were present at the clean-up, an increase from 60 volunteers at Yankton’s river cleanup last spring, according to Steve Thede, acting superintendent for the Missouri National Recreational River.

The cleanup site was located on the bluffs of Goat Island on the river a mile from the docks where debris had washed up from the banks.

Volunteers were instructed to sign-up for different motor boats that would transport them from the docks to the island where a majority of them would help to uncover the remains of a shed that had been buried in the sand.

Lisa Yager, a biologist for the NPS, said the shed, or what was left of it, had been washed up from the flooding and was now a hazard to the wildlife environment as it continued to rot away in the sand.

Volunteers sorted through piles of life jackets before proceeding to the boating docks to wait for their transportation.

As volunteers loaded into separate boats, a few of them helped to load scraps of wood that had been discovered about a mile from the docks onto a pickup truck. Others scanned the surrounding areas for litter as they waited for their boats to arrive.

Dane Bueler, a resident of Vermillion, set to work on the river banks near the docks, which were covered in debris.

“I come out here to fish pretty often,” Bueler said. “My guess is that if the water and the environment isn’t healthy then the fish probably aren’t either.”

A handful of volunteers shoveled through the sand on the island to remove the parts of the shed that were leftover. The shed, along with several furniture items like a futon and a television set, were wedged deep into the sand. Other volunteers scanned the vast open space of the island for other forms of debris.

University of South Dakota junior Kristiana Blackler helped other volunteers dig up a coil of barbed wire that was stuck underneath a log and stretched clean across the island.

“We could have found more spots to clean up,” Blackler said. “There were a lot of people in one place.”

Blackler said the cleanup was a success and would like to see more volunteers in future projects.

“I think it should be an annual thing, or even a monthly event in different locations,” she said.

Sophomore Emily Roberson was pleased with the turnout, and said the weather was perfect and the volunteers were able to finish right on time.

“I genuinely love volunteering, especially when it comes to helping the environment,” Roberson said. “I knew it would be a fun experience, and that I would get to talk to a bunch of people that I knew were just as invested in helping to better the environment as I am.”

Roberson is a sustainability major at USD and hopes to see more projects like the clean-up take place in Vermillion.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I want to influence people to begin living more sustainably. I’m here to learn what has been done and what still needs to be, and in the meantime I can participate in things like the clean-up to do my part while I’m still in school.”

The river cleanup continued from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Volunteers helped to load their trash bags and other findings onto the boats and were transported back to the docks where NPS members were serving hot dogs and drinks.