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Project AWARE cleanup to take on the West Fork of the Des Moines River Water Trail

  • 3/15/2022 2:32:00 PM
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Volunteers have the opportunity to spend their summer vacation cleaning up, learning about and exploring 61 miles of the West Fork of the Des Moines River from Petersburg, Minn., to near West Bend, Iowa, from July 10 to 15.

Project AWARE, which stands for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition, is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ annual volunteer river cleanup event.  In addition to removing trash from the river, participants learn about watersheds, water quality, recycling, and other natural resource topics. This expedition marks Project AWARE’s 18th year.

“We are excited to be a part of this year’s project,” says Penny Clayton with the City of Estherville, “Not only will the cleanup directly benefit our local river ecosystem, improve water quality and increase recreational potential, the event also heightens awareness to the community and bring volunteers together to work on this worthwhile effort.”

Volunteers participate by paddling down the river in canoes and cleaning up river trash along the way. Opportunities for land-based volunteers are also available. While the expedition lasts five days, volunteers may stay and help for as little or as long as they like. Project AWARE is family-friendly and provides the opportunity to experience a different river each year.

Iowa Project AWARE provides a unique opportunity for Iowans to actively improve the quality of our rivers. Since 2003, nearly 3,000 volunteers have removed more than 459 tons of trash from rivers all around Iowa; 78 percent of the garbage has been recycled. In previous years, a creative-thinking volunteer used the proceeds from the scrap metal to stock the river with walleye fingerlings.

From personal experience, longtime volunteer Sara Mildenstein reflects, “I am always astonished by the different things we find in the river each summer. Cars, tractor tires (highly coveted), bowling pins, bags full of gym clothes lost during someone’s camping trip. What’s funnier than the trash we find is the efforts of Iowa Project AWARE volunteers to get it out.”

In addition to river cleanup, Project AWARE also offers a unique blend of educational programs and demonstrations, volunteer camaraderie, camping and other outdoor recreation opportunities that enrich the experience. This year’s volunteers will paddle the entire length of the newly-dedicated West Fork of the Des Moines River Water Trail in Emmet County.

For more information about Iowa Project AWARE, or to register as a river cleanup volunteer visit