In April, 3,000 volunteers took to the Milwaukee River Basin for what’s become one of the largest volunteer events in southeastern Wisconsin: Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s annual spring cleanup.
More than 70,000 pounds of trash were removed at 89 sites along the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic rivers. Participation was capped at 3,000 this year due to COVID-19, but the endeavor would typically draw about 4,000 volunteers who clear an average of 10,000 pounds of trash from the waterway.
On Earth Day, the organization teamed up with the Harbor District Business Improvement District and 25 volunteers from Komatsu Mining Corp. to plant about 140 trees and shrubs on a city-owned former railroad property along the Kinnickinnic River. Trees help prevent soil runoff and filter pollution before it can enter the waterways.
These events represent a fraction of what Milwaukee Riverkeeper does year-round to restore and advocate for the basin’s 875 total river miles and connect communities to the waterway. From monitoring water quality to pushing for green infrastructure, the main goal is to protect one of the region’s greatest assets.
“If we want to attract business and people to the city – and to the waterways – we need to make sure those waters are clean,” said Cheryl Nenn, riverkeeper with the organization. “No one wants to be next to a waterway that’s full of trash or algae or that smells, and frankly, that was the case here for many decades.”
1-6. Volunteers collect trash along the Kinnickinnic (KK) River Trail near South Sixth Street and West Rosedale Avenue during Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s annual spring cleanup.
7. The area along the KK River Trail is a hot spot for trash build-up after a long winter.
8-9. Trash removed at the KK River Trail site included everything from plastic water bottles to furniture.
10. Volunteers pose with the mountain of trash removed from the Kinnickinnic River after a morning of cleanup.
11. A volunteer adds to the trash pile along the Menomonee River and Hank Aaron State Trail.
12. The Menomonee River Valley was one of 89 sites where volunteers gathered to remove trash.
13-18. In honor of Earth Day, volunteers from Komatsu and staff from Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Harbor District BID planted 88 trees and shrubs from Johnson’s Nursery and 50 bare-root tree seedlings along the Kinnickinnic River near South First Street and East Lincoln Avenue.