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Volunteers flock to Cascade for cleanup

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Mohamud Hassan leads a group of students from the Rochester Math and Science Academy in a service project to help pick up littler around the Cascade Meadow Environmental Learning Center Saturday.

More than 130 people showed up Saturday at Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center to keep the growing wetlands area clean.

More than 80 percent of the volunteers were students, including groups from Rochester Community and Technical Center and area high schools. At the 2 p.m. cleanup, dozens of kids in town for a Evangelical Lutheran Youth Conference also came over to help.

Seeing so many people picking up the trails on Saturday meant a lot to administrative manager Ann Felton. The goal of the center is to connect with community members.

"It's an education center," she said. "We want to teach people about the wetlands. We want people to see the wetlands restored. It's a place to come and explore and delve in as deep as you want."

The center opened to the public almost five years ago. Since then, seven types of wetlands have been created from the farm land behind the Rochester Athletic Club and Rochester Lourdes High School. The seven types of wetlands were chosen because they used to exist in southern Minnesota. With the wetland areas now active, Felton said an eco-system is slowly forming.

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"We are done with the land," she said. "Now, it's a matter of growing. It's take a long time for a plant to establish itself. Prairie plants first grow their root, then grow their plant and then they flower. It takes three to five years to re-establish a prairie, a wetland. We've been open five years, and we're right on track."

Rochester resident Alex Krueger first saw the center on a tour last year. He was a fan right away, so when some friends asked him to help clean the trails and surrounding areas on Saturday, he said "yes" immediately.

"I wanted to come," Krueger said. "This is the only bit of untouched nature in Rochester right now. They are leaders in renewable energy with the windmills; that's very important to me. They don't have to pay to heat the building, which is amazing. They're providing a really cool community space for free, for everyone, so I'm her to help them out."

Allison Adair, from Grand Forks, N.D., studies environmental biology at RCTC. She came to the event with her brother Ian on Saturday. Adair is part of a service project, which asks her to find ways Rochester is positively affecting the environment.

"I choose (Cascade Meadows) because they're actually doing something for the environment," she said. "It think this place is awesome. I'm all about recycling and renewable energy. I love what this place does here."

As the wetlands grow, more and more animals are showing up.

"As the habitat comes back, different animals will come back into that habitat," Felton said. "We saw incredible birds out here (Friday). Ducks are starting to migrate through. We've seen Great Blue Herons. We've seen eagles. There are deer that run through. We had a fox last year. As it grows up and different varieties of plant are established, then the eco-system that belongs there will evolve."

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