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Volunteers clean heaps of trash from Red River tributary in north Moorhead

After pulling over 16,000 pounds of trash from the Red River and its tributaries last year, volunteers returned to Snakey Creek on Tuesday to find it once again littered with debris.

A woman splattered with mud pulls a handful of trash from a creek.
Michelle Griffin of Moorhead Parks and Recreation helps clean up Snakey Creek in M.B. Johnson Park on Oct. 11, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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MOORHEAD — Snakey Creek, which meanders through M.B. Johnson Park, is home to raccoons, deer, ducks and even foxes. But every year, trash is blown or dumped into the tiny Red River tributary. That debris is not just an eyesore but can be a danger to wildlife and water stations.

This year is no exception, and volunteers, once again, are stepping up to wade through the six-inch-deep mud to clean the creek, officially known as County Ditch 41.

People sporting rubber gloves pull trash from a tangles mass of roots.
Christine Holland and Michelle Griffin pull trash from fallen trees in Snakey Creek on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022 at M.B. Johnson Park in Moorhead.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

From rusted refrigerators to rubber tires and toys, plastic bags and tarps to ice boxes, the shallow water now allows people to wade in.

Last year, 241 volunteers joined the River Keepers of Fargo-Moorhead to put in 475 hours picking up an estimated 16,000 pounds of garbage from Snakey Creek, the Red River and other waterways. Volunteers found more than 60 tires, beach balls, volleyballs, golf balls, sheets of foam insulation, chairs, tarps, sleds, food and beverage containers, blankets, sleeping bags, wading pools, bicycles, buckets and umbrellas.

“Last year, we had one layer on top of another layer,” said Christine Holland, executive director of the River Keepers of Fargo-Moorhead, adding that this year the creek isn't as full of trash as last year.

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“It has been on our radar, but the banks are too steep and the water was too high, so last year, when the water was shallow, we began," Holland said.

“It gets addicting,” she added after pulling out a long piece of plastic.

“You can see the difference and look at what you’ve cleaned up and then look and see how much more you have to do,” said Michelle Griffin, a volunteer who works with Moorhead Parks and Recreation.

Trash covers fallen logs and branches in a creek.
After a massive cleanup last year, the Snakey Creek in M.B. Johnson Park is once again littered with all kinds of trash in October 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The cleanup effort is the second cleanup at Snakey Creek the River Keepers of Fargo-Moorhead have organized.

“This year was a quick decision, and it was supposed to be a nice day, so we said, 'Let’s do this,'” Holland said. “It’s not something anyone can do; you have to be steady, you have to wear boots and also make sure everyone is safe."

While inching closer into a fallen tree, Holland watched every footstep and held onto sturdy branches for support. The banks are steep and slippery. The mud is deceptively deep in the drier areas.

Trees have collapsed into the creek, creating natural garbage collectors along the entire creek before it dumps into the Red River. The cleanup work is vital because the Red River is the drinking water source for much of the community and is home to many plants and animals, Holland said.

A woman wearing a baseball cap and rubber gloves pulls trash from a stream.
Christine Holland, of River Keepers of Fargo-Moorhead, clenas up Snakey Creek in M.B. Johnson Park in Moorhead on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The garbage that volunteers collect is put into piles, then taken out of the creek bed and disposed of properly, she said. Larger items, such as a rusted-out refrigerator around the bend from where she and Griffin worked, would need more people or a machine to move them.

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Those interested in getting involved with the River Keepers can find more information at riverkeepers.org/volunteer.

Snakey Creek became part of M.B. Johnson Park in 1971 after the city of Moorhead bought the 107.9 acres of land for $107,000 from the Martin Johnson farm estate.

Not only is the creek home to all kinds of furry creatures, their paw and hoof prints evident along the banks, but it’s home to ducks and fish, as well. Nearby milkweed plants give shelter to monarch butterflies.

The area is a walking, cross-country skiing and off-road bicycling area for many, and the paths winding through the trees offer adventures for the young and young at heart.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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