Work Samples

  • Megann Horstead

Local volunteers make the trek to Clean the Kish event to remove trash


Volunteers from Northern Illinois University and the DeKalb County community united Sunday to clean up a stretch of the Kishwaukee River.

Organizers of the sixth annual Clean the Kish event said that their efforts help put a number of things in perspective when it comes to the environment.

“I think that Clean the Kish helps volunteers see the bigger picture; how much plastic, debris and garbage finds its way into our river,” said Madelynn Bramm, special events manager of outdoor adventures, recreation and wellness for NIU.

Some children and their parents signed up to participate, which Bramm said is important for younger generations.

“It gives them a sense of community seeing people come together to create a little difference,” she said. “It’ll also foster an environmental view from an early age so that as they grow, they are more environmentally aware and can continue to make a difference either within the community or on a larger scale.”

Misty Smith of Rochelle took to the grassy area along the east lagoon with her fiancé, Andres Garcia, picking up litter.

“It’s pretty nice,” she said, referring to the turnout. “I was worried we would get rained out.”

Clean the Kish was a first for Smith and Garcia, both of whom said they have full-time jobs often preventing them from getting involved in similar type of clean up events.

“I loved that my honey was going to Clean the Kish,” she said. “He signed up, so I tagged along.”

Smith said she was surprised to find a couple of tiny shells while doing her part to clean up.

“That and just the amount of Styrofoam,” Garcia said.

The Kishwaukee River Basin is home to more than 60 species of fish, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ website. The Kishwaukee River starts at Shabbona and flows north toward Rockford until it empties into the Rock River.

Volunteers might reap some benefits from deciding to participate in Clean the Kish.

Bramm said the Kishwaukee River provides the community with perfect recreational opportunities for paddling and fishing.

A growing movement

Volunteers were divided into several working groups to clean up one of three areas: the grassy area along the east lagoon, the area along the west lagoon and Lions Park grounds.

Organizers provided volunteers with gloves, pickup sticks, nets and trash bags.

Last year, Clean the Kish had 23 people to sign up in advance, but organizers said at least 100 turned out.

“I think that volunteers are drawn to the idea that Clean the Kish is a good way to contribute to the bettering our community and environment,” Bramm said. “They also get a sense of community when they work with others towards the common goal of cleaning the Kish and seeing that they’ve made a difference when at the end, they see all the litter put together.”

NIU sophomore Jessica Johnson said she is glad she learned of Clean the Kish.

“I didn’t know about it last year,” she said. “We heard about it because of our honors composition class. I thought it’d be fun, plus it’s a nice day.”

Johnson said she removed several bottles along the east lagoon, as well as, to her surprise, a bag of popcorn.

“It’s crazy what people leave behind,” she said.

Johnson said that participating in Clean the Kish means a lot to her.

“It’s more important that it’s at my campus,” she said. “People make a mess, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to clean up.”

Although Clean the Kish happens once a year, NIU hosts other events with similar objectives.

From 4-5 p.m. Sept. 30, NIU is organizing a Communiversity Prairie Garden ReWilding where volunteers are tasked with cleaning up weeds and planting native plants in the raised beds located between the Grant and Stevenson Towers.

In the spring, during Earth day and NIU Cares Day, organizers will host cleanup events near the west lagoon.

Bramm said that NIU’s goal in hosting Clean the Kish is simple.

“We hope to accomplish an outdoor experience that is both educational and fulfilling,” she said. “The Kishwaukee River is one of our community treasures. With this event, we want volunteers to learn the importance of maintaining river ecosystems while gaining an outdoor experience and meeting new people.”

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