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North Iowa paddlers tidy up Winnebago River

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Winnebago River Cleanup 1

A paddler shows a shoe she found in the Winnebago River at the annual river cleanup in Mason City on Saturday.

More than 20 nature lovers made a splash Saturday by helping clean up the environment.

Participants floated down the Winnebago River to enjoy the outdoors and pick up trash. The group gathered a variety of waste, from small candy wrappers to large tires.

Winnebago River Cleanup 2

Volunteers pose for a photo at the annual Winnebago River cleanup on Saturday in Mason City.

"It's really a cool community-building experience," said Heather Hucka, Cerro Gordo County Conservation education manager. "Every single person that comes to help clean it up has some connection to the Winnebago River. It's a really a fun group of people that would probably never interact otherwise, but the river brought us together."

Winnebago River Cleanup 3

Paddlers launch off to go down the Winnebago River during the annual river cleanup on Saturday in Mason City.

The Winnebago River cleanup has been an annual event for around five years, according to Hucka. The float is done in collaboration with several groups around Mason City to keep the river clean.

According to previous reporting from the Globe Gazette, the event was initiated through discussions from the city's Earth Day Committee. More than 4,000 pounds of trash has been removed from the river as part of the event.

The float is open to the public, and a limited number of canoes are available for participants who don't have their own. Volunteers bring their own canoes or kayaks as well.

Winnebago River Cleanup 4

A paddler looks for trash during the annual Winnebago River cleanup on Saturday in Mason City.

Participants gather litter like plastic bags, plastic cups, and styrofoam. Every so often, people find "jewels" in the water.

"I've heard of computers being pulled out of the river or refrigerators being pulled out of the river. You never know what you're going to find," Hucka said.

It was the first year for Hucka to lead the cleanup, which started at East Park and ended at the Averydale access on Birch Drive.

Volunteers started trickling in a half-hour before getting on the river to make sure their gear was ready to go. Participants made sure to don their water shoes and apply a layer of sunscreen.

Winnebago River Cleanup 5

Paddlers look for trash during the annual Winnebago River cleanup on Saturday in Mason City.

More-experienced volunteers helped out the newbies, answering questions and advising them how many garbage bags to grab before heading out. A key tip was to make sure to keep an eye on the riverbank to spot garbage that needed to be picked up.

Volunteers quickly found trash near the launch site, like an old shoe and plastic items. Items were placed in bright orange trash bags, which then were properly disposed of at two different locations.

Winnebago River Cleanup 6

A paddler pulls a tire onto the riverbank during the annual Winnebago River cleanup on Saturday in Mason City.

Hucka said any time is a good time to pick up waste, but summer is best for the float because lower water levels expose more trash. She hopes others see the efforts and take ownership by helping keep the river clean, both in Mason City and other cities along the Winnebago.

"I would love to have the problem of not enough boats. I would love to have an army floating down the river and not find enough trash for everybody," said Hucka. "My dream would be just all of a sudden it go from a trash cleanup to just a float."

Abby covers education and entertainment for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com

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