For over a decade, volunteers from Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna, and other area communities have spent a morning cleaning up litter from the Cannon River, the Straight River, and area lakes as part of the Cannon River Watershed-Wide CleanUP.

With the pandemic still in full swing and most other community events cancelled, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, the nonprofit that coordinates the largest cleanup event in Minnesota, wasn’t sure what to expect.

“We knew that some people might not attend a public event, even if it is outdoors and people are wearing masks,” said Cannon River Watershed Partnership Executive Director Kristi Pursell. “And while some long-time volunteers didn’t attend this year, a lot of first-time volunteers did show up. It was great to see so much support for this community clean water event!”

In 2019, about 175 volunteers cleaned up area rivers and lakes. This year over 200 volunteers attended CleanUPs in Northfield, Faribault, Cannon Falls, Medford and Owatonna. The volunteers included over 70 students from St. Olaf College and 30 volunteers from the American Heritage Girls youth group.

In addition to the “public” CleanUPs, several families and groups had private CleanUPs over the weekend as well, including the Willing Welchers 4-H group and the Shields Lake Association on Shields Lake. For the first time this year, families could request a “CleanUP At Home” kit with masks, gloves and garbage bags, so they could do the CleanUP on their own. A dozen families did their own CleanUPs this year.

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Groups found a bicycle, car tires, glass bottles, and lots of discarded fishing line in addition to plastic bottles and food wrappers. Volunteers collected an estimated 8,500 pounds of litter this year. Many cities, including Northfield and Faribault, donated dumpster space to help volunteers clean up area parks and river banks. Since its inception in 2009, over 2,650 volunteers have picked up over 164,800 pounds of litter from riverbanks, parks, and lakeshores in the region.

If you would like to take part in the 2021 CleanUP, mark your calendar for the third Saturday in September. Next year’s CleanUP takes place Saturday, Sept. 18. To learn more, visit