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Volunteers sought to clean Pelican

OLD FENCING and assorted other junk line the Pelican River. A cleanup date has been set.1 / 2
BRANCHES AND TRASH litter the Pelican River on the way into Detroit Lake.2 / 2

Folks along the Pelican River may have noticed the river flow has slowed to not much more than a trickle in some spots.

While a contributing factor to that may be drought conditions, humans may be even more to blame.

“We got a call a couple of weeks ago from a concerned citizen that the river levels were very low, and they suspected there was a potential beaver dam around there somewhere,” said Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter.

Guetter and assistant administrator Jon Staldine grabbed their waders and went out to investigate the problem area.

They noticed the river levels were low and slow between Highway 10 and Detroit Lake, around where the Pelican River flows into Detroit Lake.

But as Staldine walked upstream in search of a possible beaver dam, he found the real culprit.

“I’m walking over a garbage bag, tires; I pulled a couple of car batteries out,” said Staldine, “There was all kinds of garbage and debris just sitting there in the river,” he said, saying that fallen trees were the only thing that appeared to be a natural issue.

Large beverage coolers and big pieces of fencing added to what Guetter says are several piles of debris that are blocking the natural water flow including signs, pallets and lots of plastic shopping bags. “We were really taken aback by the amount and the scale of debris that we found in the river in such a short distance,” she said, adding that it is roughly a quarter of a mile of river that is mostly affected by the problem.

Guetter says the problem has likely been accumulating for about five years, but this year because river levels were already so low, there wasn’t the velocity to push the water through the barriers.

Since the Pelican River is the main tributary to Detroit Lake, Guetter and Staldine say the health of the lake is directly tied to the health of the river.

The possibility of toxic materials making it into the fresh waters is only one of them.

“There are so many reasons to take this seriously,” said Staldine, “This is the primary input for the lake, so you want it to be as clean as possible to have a healthy fish spawning habitat.”

Staldine also says sediment builds up behind debris, which can unnaturally change how the river flows — possibly even redirecting it into people’s yards.

Lake levels are also affected, as Guetter says levels that unnaturally bounce around make for erosion issues around the bank.

“I don’t know if people think that if they throw their garbage in the river it just floats away, but that’s not the case,” she said, adding that the debris needs to be cleaned out as soon as possible.

Although the job could have been hired out through the Pelican River Watershed District, Guetter and Staldine had a different idea — to rally the troops and gather volunteers to do it.

“We want people to be involved in caring for the resources and taking pride in the place they call home,” said Staldine, who is coordinating this community outreach called “Purge the Pelican.”

The litter cleanup event is a call to action for people willing to roll up their sleeves, pull on some good, heavy-duty rubber gloves and rectify the man-made problem while heightening awareness on the importance of keeping our waters clean.

The goal is to get at least 20 to 25 helping hands for the event.

“There’s something for everybody to help with,” said Staldine, “There are plastic bags snagged on plants; we need somebody up on the bank sorting stuff because some things can be recycled, some composted and some just properly dealt with.”

The Detroit Lakes parks and streets department is volunteering to help haul away the debris pulled from the river.

Volunteers are being asked to meet at the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store parking lot Wednesday Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m..

Waders, hip boots and heavy duty rubber gloves are recommended.

To volunteer, call Jon Staldine at 846-0436.