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Day spent making the Zumbro River cleaner in downtown Rochester

The Rochester Downtown Alliance and Clean and Safe Ambassadors went to the Zumbro River banks Friday to pick up litter and debris.

Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Tim Woodward, a Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassador supervisor, and Karli McElroy, director of operations with the Rochester Downtown Alliance, search for trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. The two were part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — “Shout out to AriZona. It’s always been 99 cents,” Cam Hurd, the operations manager for the Clean and Safe Ambassador Program, said as he picked up a littered can of AriZona tea from the Zumbro River beds.

On the second anniversary of the Clean and Safe Ambassadors Program, staff from both the Ambassadors Program and the Rochester Downtown Alliance walked along the banks — on the dry side and the wet side — of the Zumbro picking up trash and debris in order to beautify both the river and the downtown area through which it flows.

Last year, the group picked up 20 bags of trash and debris from the river, according to Holly Masek, the executive director of the RDA.

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“It's falling on the second anniversary of our Clean and Safe Ambassador Program, which is a cleaning safety and hospitality program that we run here in downtown Rochester,” Masek said. “We also want to use this as an opportunity to celebrate our ambassadors in the program and the difference they make downtown.”

According to Masek, the clean up was organized last year because staff noticed the river could use some attention and hoped that cleaning up the river would change community perceptions of the river and make passersby biking or running on the trails take notice of the river's potential.

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“We started it because we started noticing ourselves that there was debris collecting in the river,” Masek said. “We really wanted to bring attention to what we think is a pretty underutilized and underappreciated resource right in the heart of downtown.”

Seven total staff members from the two groups showed up to help clean up the river this year. While six donned waders, life vests and whistles in preparation for entering the river, the seventh staff member, Kent Thomas with the Clean and Safe Ambassadors Program, equipped himself with a bucket and rope.

By creating a pulley system, Thomas was able to help the other staff members by lifting a full bucket of trash from the river banks and sending an empty one back down toward the river.

Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
From left, Kent Thomas, a Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassador, Tim Woodward, a Clean and Safe Ambassador supervisor, Karli McElroy, director of operations with the Rochester Downtown Alliance, and Cam Hurd, manager of the Clean and Safe Ambassadors program, pick up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. The four were part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Thomas said his work with the Clean and Safe Ambassadors Program brings a new experience everyday. Not only has he been able to meet a lot of new people through his work as an ambassador, but also at the end of the day, it feels good to know you are doing work to help keep the city clean.

“I’ve got the rope over here in case you guys get too deep,” Thomas said joking down to the people wading in the river.

Last year, the cleanup team’s more exciting finds were $60 in cash and a rusty bike, while this year, the group stumbled upon a Christmas ornament and hypodermic needle amid a sea of plastic bottles and styrofoam.

As a group of the cleanup team made their way down the rocky shore of the first stretch of river, Karli McElroy, director of operations with the RDA, said the group had so far found “nothing super fancy.”

“If we found 100 dollars, that’d be really great,” McElroy said. “I’d like that.”

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While most of the group traversed the rocky river bed with walking sticks and trash pickers, Masek and ambassador Jim Bill Woods ventured down the shallower sides of the river in an inflatable raft, each holding a paddle in one hand and a trash picker in the other.

Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Holly Masek, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, and JimBill Woods, a Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassador, pick up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. The two were part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Woods, who said he'd been “stuck with” the raft last year, said he witnessed significantly less trash and debris along the river this year.

“I’m ready to jump in the water,” yelled Woods from the raft, to which Masek responded, “Don’t do it man, the water’s not clean yet.”

By the time the raft had made it back from the first stretch of the river being cleaned up Friday, the two rafters collected five full bags of garbage and grabbed an empty five gallon water jug along the way.

“We want people to see the river as a place of potential,” Masek said. “We also want people to remember that there are so many opportunities for community engagement and that you can make a difference in your community just by doing a litter cleanup or a similar event like this.”

Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Holly Masek, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, and JimBill Woods, a Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassador, pick up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. The two were part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Cam Hurd, manager of the Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassadors program, picks up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. Hurd was part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Cam Hurd, manager of the Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassadors program, and Kent Thomas, one of the Clean and Safe Ambassadors, pick up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. The two were part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Downtown Rochester River Cleanup
Cam Hurd, manager of the Downtown Rochester Clean and Safe Ambassadors program, picks up trash along the shore of the South Fork of the Zumbro River on Friday, July 1, 2022, in Rochester. Hurd was part of a group of RDA staff and Clean and Safe Ambassadors cleaning up the river between the Center Street Bridge and the former Rochester Area Family YMCA building.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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