Project AWARE paddles out after two nights

By Kate Hayden,

The hunt for trash continues.

Volunteers will embark from Charles City Friday morning on the last leg of Project AWARE’s 2017 route along the upper Cedar River.

It’s the first time AWARE has visited Mitchell and Floyd counties, Project AWARE coordinator Lynette Seigley said.

“There was interest locally in having us come, and also there’s a lot going on in the upper Cedar in terms of water quantity and quality issues, so it was a chance to highlight what’s going on up here,” she said.

Project AWARE spent two nights this week camping in Charles City at Riverfront Park on a mission to purge Iowa waters from the tires, styrofoam and scrap metal that goes unnoticed in the rural river landscape.

The annual expedition is marking its 15th year, Seigley said, and chooses a new river route to clean each year.

Twenty or so locals from Floyd and Mitchell counties volunteered to join this year’s event, Seigley said, and the Floyd County Ikes and Floyd County Conservation are also helping with trash disposal.

“We meet community leaders multiple times before (the event) so we do feel like we know the community by the time the event starts,” said Dan Ceynar, a planning committee member and 12-year volunteer with Project AWARE.

Project AWARE meets with community leaders to handle logistics, but the sessions also help event coordinators choose the evening programming Project AWARE offers all its participants.

On Wednesday, Project AWARE hosted a whitewater demonstration at the Charles City WhiteWater Park, and brought two bus loads of volunteers out to the Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve in Rockford.

“We must have had 100 people go on that field trip last night. … I was amazed,” Seigley said. “After people have been out on the river for 13 miles or whatever, and (Wednesday) it was hot — to still have the energy to go to the programs.”

“For a lot of people it’s not just a river cleanup, it’s a chance to learn about the history, learn about the communities, what makes the area unique,” she said.

Two Iowa state senators joined in on the route Thursday morning: Sens. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. Representatives with the Cedar River Watershed Coalition chose to spend a day out with Project AWARE, said Hogg, who is co-chairman on the coalition.

Hogg and Bolkcom arrived with a group of volunteers from the Iowa Flood Center, IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa.

“In addition to the stuff we do for advocacy … we also believe in getting people out on the water for direct action. We’ve got a bunch of people coming out today,” Hogg said Thursday.

“For me, you remember the flood damage last fall, and we know about the water quality issues. This just kind of underscores the issues and urgency we have to have about cleaning up our river, cleaning up our water and making sure we’re doing more to prepare for future flooding.”

Thursday was Hogg’s first experience on Project AWARE.

“I saw they removed a Coke dispenser yesterday. I’m just kind of excited about it — I think it’s something really tangible to do with a group of people,” Hogg said. “It’s kind of like a vacation, except we’re working and volunteering.”

The Iowa Flood Center’s staff was also experiencing Project AWARE for the first time, said Outreach Coordinator Breanna Shea. The Iowa Flood Center has worked closely with the Upper Cedar River Watershed Management Authority group between 2010-2016, building projects in sub-watersheds and helping oversee management.

“We try and do outreach and education, anything we can do to raise awareness about how important rivers are. It’s just fun for our group to get out and see these things in real life, related to the hydrology efforts we work on back at the lab,” Shea said.

The IFC  received an outpouring of support when funding was threatened by cuts during the last state legislative session, Shea said.

“This event is kind of a way for us to say thank-you to them, too, and recognize that we’re not just doing things back at the lab on computers, we are here to help out and participate with events like these, too,” Shea said.

“Anything you can do with the state Legislature to make issues real helps,” Hogg said. “When you get out on the river and see the condition of the river — the trash, we’re going to see erosion, we’re going to see things — it makes it real, it makes it tangible.”