2014 Project AWARE

On July 12, 2014, AmeriCorps members and student volunteers from the University of Northern Iowa began their journey on Iowa Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition), an annual river cleanup program coordinated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Located in Northwest Iowa and Southeast South Dakota, the Big Sioux River was the chosen watershed to paddle and clean for 2014. Through a first-time partnership between UNI’s Office of Sustainability and Outdoor Recreation Program, UNI participants were able to experience an adventure they will never forget.

UNI joined over 388 volunteers from across the Midwest to paddle 91 miles of the Big Sioux River. Together, they removed 60,183 pounds of discarded materials, 95 percent of which was recycled. Items varied from plastic bags and clothing to water heaters, washing machines, and automobiles. After extraction, volunteers loaded these items into their canoes and paddled down the river. “The big trash that we got out together was the most rewarding,” said UNI junior Katie Allen, “and it was cool to get to know so many other people.”

DNR staff spent arduous hours transferring the waste from canoes to recycling stations along the Big Sioux. “[This was] the most organized clean up I’ve ever been a part of,” said freshman Evan Marsh, “it’s truly amazing to see what you pull out of the river.” More than 540 tires were gathered by AWARE volunteers, along with 39,840 pounds of scrap metal, 4,736 pounds of recyclables and 560 pounds of household hazardous material.

“This was a very eye-opening experience,” said trip leader and AmeriCorps VISTA member Regan Jamieson, “each day painted a picture of people coming together for a common purpose and accomplishing something Iowa’s communities desperately need.”

The anticipation for next year’s AWARE adventure is already stirring on UNI’s campus. “I had an amazing time! We need to keep doing this,” junior Samantha Thaldorf eagerly stated. Allen agreed and said “UNI should keep sending students on Project AWARE. It gave us an opportunity to learn about being more conscious of how our habits affect others.”

The Office of Sustainability and Outdoor Recreation Program are looking forward to continuing to participate in Project AWARE. “There is such a need for young people to be involved in this initiative. Our goal at UNI is to continue supporting AWARE. by sending student volunteers and encouraging other universities to do the same,” said Jamieson.