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Cyclers powering the stage at the Rock the Green party. (Photo by Rhea Riley)

Windy, cold and damp are words that do not resonate the thought of spring cleaning. Spring rarely includes gloomy clouds or the threat of a blizzard. However, these elements were no match for over 4,000 Milwaukeeans who banded together and scoured the Milwaukee River Basin for the 24th annual Milwaukee Riverkeeper Spring Cleanup.

“The renewed focus on pollution, plastic consumption, and drinking water is overwhelming. Community members are looking for opportunities to come together to lend a hand to help tackle these issues in their own backyard,” said Milwaukee Riverkeeper Executive Director, Jennifer Bolger Breceda. “It’s only through a continued community effort that we will achieve swimmable, fishable, drinkable waterways.”

The Spring Cleanup happened last Saturday, April 27. Over the course of three hours, volunteers gathered almost 100,000 pounds of trash from three of Milwaukee’s major rivers: the Kinnickinnic River, Milwaukee River and Menomonee River. At the start of the day, the event had 3,500 volunteers registered with about a thousand trickling in throughout the day. Volunteers were spread across 65 designated cleaning sites. Each site offered different levels of cleaning. Starting at level one with simple trash pickup to level three which kept volunteers busy the entire morning. Some sites included tree planting and the removal of toxic plants, while others allowed volunteers to canoe and clean; it was a mix of different cleaning activities.

Good City Brewing handing out free Beers at the Rock the Green party. (Photo by Rhea Riley)

“It’s just Milwaukeeans from all over the city, every different county – the seven counties, the 24 villages, 32 towns, everybody is coming out and cleaning up,” said Bolger Breceda.

Volunteers began their day by meeting at their starting point, like Miller Park or Lincoln Park. From there, groups were dispersed to their designated sites where they were armed with gloves, trash bags and garbage pickers. Each site was also equipped with a site captain to navigate and assist them throughout the day.

“I gather the supplies, I rally troops, and I make sure everybody has a good time,” said site captain Mitch Kulis.

Kulis was one of several experienced site captains who helped lead the charge to clean throughout the morning. Kulis was in charge of 95 volunteers which consisted of families, college students and even seniors, all engaging in a day of service.

Some volunteers had participated in the event for several years, while for others it was their very first community cleanup. Together the group managed to collect about 70 bags of trash, ranging from normal trash to random findings like a racoon skull.

“A bunch of people can get together and make a difference, one piece of trash at a time,” said Kulis.

To celebrate the days achievements, the cleanup was followed with a zero-waste eco-sustainability festival hosted by Rock the Green. Rock the Green was founded by Lindsay Stevens, who was fed up with the live event industry and its waste. Stevens was inspired to create Rock the Green to not only provide a fun event atmosphere but also cut back on their environmental impact.

The free party was held at Estabrook park. The party featured 22 different organizations on site with various educational vendors such as Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Royal Roost, BeeVangelists, River Revitalization Foundation and many more. There was also a live concert by Lex Allen and Chickenwire Empire, on a stage pedal powered by The Velo Femmes, Black Girls Do Bike, and Cadence Cycling Milwaukee. The event was scheduled to have seven different food trucks, but due to weather concerns that number dwindled.

“We had some food vendors cancel last minute, because they thought ‘Snowmaggedon’ was coming,” said Stevens about the limited vendors.

Local food vendors Pedro’s, Bel Air Cantina and Next Level Vegan powered through and served volunteers tasty dishes, while Good City Brewing doled out free beers. Rock the Green partnered with Compost Crusaders to keep the events waste 100% controlled. Food and drinks were served on sustainable eco-friendly serving ware and were disposed of at one of the many waste reclamation stations.

However, the clean-up does not end there. Milwaukee Riverkeeper has a yearly program where volunteers can come and continue to keep Milwaukee’s rivers clean.

“We know we are removing a lot of trash, and we know that it comes back after we’ve spent all this time cleaning it up,” said Bolger Breceda. “There is kind of an endless stream of garbage that is flowing around, so we created an adopt the river program and that is a way for people to participate all year long,” said Bolger Berceda.

Interested volunteers were encouraged to join the Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s Adopt-A-River Program.

The program is open to all ages and volunteers can choose whatever part of Milwaukee’s river basin they would like to clean, as long as they commit to cleaning at least two times a year.

For more information on joining the adopt-a-river program call 414-287-0207 or email adoptariver@milwaukeeriverkeeper.org

To learn more about Milwaukee RiverKeepers visit: milwaukeeriverkeeper.org

To learn more about Rock the Green visit: Rockthegreen.com

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