25th annual River Clean Up protects area wildlife - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

25th annual River Clean Up protects area wildlife

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

A group of volunteers kept a 25-year commitment on Saturday by rolling up their sleeves to clean the Mississippi River. It was part of the annual River Clean Up, helping to protect area wildlife.

Russell Wilson was the La Crosse Conservation Warden for 26 years, and he helped start River Clean Up.

"After I retired and moved out of state for a while, other folks picked it up and kept it going," Wilson said. He was one of the volunteers helping Saturday..

The day marked the 25th anniversary of the event, and Wilson says the river used to look much different.

"There was just so much garbage from hundreds of years of debris being dumped and blowing into the river," Wilson elaborates.

More than half a million pounds of garbage has been picked up from area waterways and put it where it belongs.

"They pick up the trash throw it in their boats, they pick up the trash they throw it in their cars, then they can all come back to the four particular landings that we have set up," River Clean Up Coordinator Amy Smith describes.

While less trash in the water is nice to look at, it provides additional benefits as well.

"It's also safer for the animals because they're not cutting themselves on broken glass and getting caught up in different kinds of debris," Wilson explains.

It is thanks to the commitment of volunteers showing up to clean the Mississippi River and surrounding waterways that make area animals safer.

"We live in the Driftless region. We are surrounded, literally surrounded by water. Everywhere we look, it's our backyard and honestly if we're not going to go out and do it, no one is going to," Smith concludes.

If everyone treats the river like their own backyard, Wilson says a little accountability can go a long way.

"When somebody can go to a sandbar and not have broken glass and bottles all over the place, it's going to make them think about taking their garbage when they leave, or maybe not bringing glass in the first place," Wilson said.

The group also launched a new project called Soak It Up on Saturday. The program is aimed at teaching residents how to help prevent storm run-off from dirtying area waterways.

MORE: Past River Clean Ups

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