MONTICELLO– For more than a century, people have used the Sangamon River near Monticello as a dumping ground.
Kim Erndt, watershed organizer for the Prairie Rivers Network, says the rolling river is littered with debris.
"Up and down the Sangamon River you'll see larger items, such as appliances, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves and televisions," said Erndt. "You'll find tires, furniture, trash and all sorts of stuff. A long time ago, a river was a place people went to dump stuff. People didn't take their stuff to the dump 20, 30 years ago; they took it to the river."
Some area residents intend to take the first step toward converting the Sangamon River once more into a clean waterway.
An estimated 200 volunteers from the Prairie Rivers Network and Piatt County are expected to come to the banks of the river Saturday for the county's first river cleanup day.
A similar cleanup campaign is set for the Vermilion River near Danville. Volunteer work crews report 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Ellsworth Park. The cleanup focuses on the area from Anderson Hill into Ellsworth Park, the site of Vermilion River Fall Festival weekend activities.
Around 30 cadets and staff from Lincoln's Challenge are participating in the Vermilion River clean up, but more volunteers are needed. To help, call Gregg or Judy Sacotnik at Middle Fork Canoe Outfitters at 442-4571.
"It's a wonderful way to connect people with the river," Erndt said.
The Prairie Rivers Network is a statewide organization dedicated to protecting water quality, rivers and streams. It is based in Champaign.
Jean Flemma, executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network, said the volunteers will spend the morning removing appliances and other items from the river.
"We want to have a clean fish and wildlife habitat. We want a good place for families to go boating. Rivers are critical for recreation, especially people who want to swim," Flemma said.
Volunteers will meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Monticello City Building, 210 N. Hamilton St., before heading to seven sites along the river between Lodge Park and Allerton Park.
Erndt said there will be two locations at Allerton Park, two at Lodge Park and three within the city of Monticello.
The cleanup event is expected to conclude at noon.
Many supplies, including gloves, buckets and trash bags, will be provided to the volunteers, who are asked to wear old clothes and footwear.
"You should dress to get muddy," Flemma said. "The Sangamon is a low-lying river, so wear boots and things you don't mind getting muddy."
However, Flemma said any volunteers who have their own work gloves are asked to bring them because there is a limited supply of gloves.
Every volunteer will receive a container to hold water bottles.
Erndt said work crews from the city of Monticello will truck away the debris the volunteers remove from the river.
Flemma said the Piatt County event was created as an outgrowth of an ongoing cleanup project on the Salt Fork River near Homer Lake in Champaign County.
"For the last eight years, we've had a Salt Fork cleanup each year in October," Flemma said. "Last year, when we had the cleanup, we bought 200 T-shirts, and 300 people showed up. That told us that people really want to do stuff on the river. So we started thinking about other places we could get people out on the river."
As a result, the Prairie Rivers Network began to pursue cleaning the Sangamon River in Piatt County.
Erndt said she enjoys cleanup events because they help citizens who might not otherwise visit rivers to appreciate nature.
"Sometimes people just drive right by a river," Erndt said. "This brings people to the rivers and instills a spirit of stewardship."
Flemma said Saturday's event marks a return to her organization's origins.
"The Prairie Rivers Network got its start as the committee to save Allerton Park," Flemma said. "About 25 years ago, there was a proposal to build a dam and reservoir that would have flooded Allerton Park. We fought to keep the park, and we won."
Flemma said the organization decided to hold the Sangamon River cleanup this Saturday because Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn declared Sept. 17 as "It's Our River Day" in Illinois.
Sponsors of the event include: Allerton Park, ADM, the Piatt County Forest Preserve, Prairie Rivers Network, Champaign County Forest Preserve, Kirby Ambulance, the Nature Conservatory, the city of Monticello, Monticello Fire and Rescue, the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, Monticello Main Street, and the Piatt County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.
More information is available from the city of Monticello at 762-2583 or Prairie Rivers Network at 344-2371.