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Earth Week: BSU students get hands dirty for lakeshore cleanup

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BEMIDJI — Breanna Wagner, a freshman at Bemidji State University (BSU), first became environmentally aware after cleaning the Crow River shoreline as a youth in Hutchinson, Minn. Wagner’s mother worked for 3M, where the river flowed behind the building.

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"The river was gross," she said. "It felt good to help out, but the waste was extremely harmful to the surrounding wildlife."

Wagner was one of 34 BSU students who took part in an effort to clean Lake Bemidji’s shoreline, spanning approximately three-and-a-half miles. The cleanup was sponsored by Students of the Environment, a BSU environmental club, whose goal is not only to clean the Lake Bemidji shoreline but educate students and spread awareness about environmental issues.

The cleanup crews divided into two groups, one starting at Cameron Park and the other at the Sanford Center. After two-and-a-half hours of cleanup, they met at the iconic statues of Paul and Babe, where they dumped their large collection of trash into a BSU maintenance vehicle. Recyclables were separated from the rest of the trash, while cigarette butts were saved for a display as a part of a tobacco free student-led initiative.

The cleanup polished off an eventful Earth Week at BSU that included a panel discussion, documentaries, 5K and 10K run/walk and an unused electronic device collection.

Earth Day started on April 22, 1970 after Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson was impacted by an oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. The event began as nation-wide student protest against the deterioration of the environment. Earth Day went international in 1990. In 1995, then president Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the medal-of-honor for his formation of Earth Day. Today 192 countries take part in Earth Day.

BSU students were anxious to don their spring apparel and get their hands dirty for the Lake Shore Clean Up. Clear skies and mid-50s temperatures on Friday helped keep smiles on everyone’s faces as they trudged through knee-deep amounts snow, puddles of water, and large amounts of sludge. Students had no choice but to dig deep under the snow to find the discarded trash.

In addition to predictable trash like pop cans, cigarette butts, bottles, wrappers, cardboard, paper, unanticipated items found were a five dollar bill, an iPhone, a rug, teddy bear, a cooler, propane tank, a piece of a sled, and a hockey roster full of Wisconsin cheers.

By days end, 14 bags full of trash were gathered, and approximately 50 pounds of recyclables was collected. The cigarette butts were jam-packed into one large bag.

"The students came together not because we had to, but because we care about the environment," said BSU senior Erik Bergsven. He plans on getting outside again with friends when the snow is melted to complete the lakeshore cleanup.

"I feel picking up trash is a simple way to connect with nature," said Erika Bailey-Johnson, Sustainability Coordinator at BSU. "It’s not only making our environment more aesthetically pleasing, safer and cleaner, it’s teaching students about the environment too."

According to the Princeton Review, BSU has been named one of the top green colleges in the nation for the second straight year. People in the Environment, a team-taught interdisciplinary course available at BSU, required many of the participants to volunteer for the lakeshore cleanup.

BSU freshman Caroline Rasinski left the cleanup with a sense of improving her environment, not only for her own lifetime, but also for generations to follow.

"I don’t want my kids growing up in this waste," Rasinski said.

Article written by Matt Ellinghuysen, Jordan Shearer, Samantha Hosch, Alyssa Stewart and Jack Tuthill as a special to the Pioneer.

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