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May 17, 2011

Fox River Hat Trick


The first weekend in May, three groups of Chicago-area Water Sentinels volunteers got hands-on and knee-deep for the annual Fox River Clean Sweep.

Longtime Valley of the Fox Water Sentinels leader Fran Caffee, below, organized cleanups at three different points along the Fox—two in Aurora, Illinois' second-largest city, and one in Elgin, about 25 miles to the north.


The Fox, a 199-mile tributary of the Illinois River, rises in Wisconsin and flows south, where it runs through Illinois' Fox River Valley, home to roughly a million people. Caffee, co-leader of the Sierra Club's national Water Sentinels team, and fellow Valley of the Fox Group activist Terri Voitik ran herd on the Aurora cleanups.


Thirty-five volunteers turned out for the cleanup in downtown Aurora, where some 300 pounds of garbage were hauled off the riverbanks, including the bicycle below. Voitik oversaw the other Aurora-area cleanup at the Big Woods Forest Preserve, which drew a dozen or so volunteers.


Among those pitching in was Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, below at left; at right, a young Aurora volunteer scours the riverbank. "Tom and his wife Marilyn are Sierra Club members who do their part to keep our river clean," Caffee says.


"The river and the riverfront are a great community asset," Weisner told the Aurora Beacon-News. "We haven't always appreciated it… [but] with the River Edge Park and a new kayak and canoe rental shop coming to town, there needs to be a stronger focus on keeping this area clean. We need to preserve, respect, and nurture the use of our riverfront."

Caffee makes this ethos part of her regular routine. Wrote the Beacon-News: "Every Monday, when the weather is nice, she's out with a group that walks the east side of the river. The problem is, they don't always walk real far, because they stop to pick up garbage." Below, Aurora volunteers Linda Cole and Craig Zabel with trash bagged from the downtown riverbank.


The Valley of the Fox Water Sentinels have been testing water quality in the Fox since the 1990s and cleaning up the riverbanks in Aurora for the last ten years. "It's better than it was," Caffee told the Beacon-News. "We're helping make the public more aware of what they should and shouldn't be doing."


Illinois Water Sentinels organizer Cindy Skrukrud, at center above, oversaw the Elgin cleanup. Some 30 people, including Sierra Club volunteers Fred Houdek and John Shattuck, above, pitched in to haul 400 pounds of trash and 150 pounds of recycling from the city's Trout Park. Below, two young volunteers from the Fox River Country Day School in Elgin.


Joining the effort for the second time was State Rep. Keith Farnham, at center below, who urged local residents to come help out with the cleanup. "This is my neighborhood, and I want to keep it clean," Farnham told the Elgin Courier-News.


"Trout Park is important to Elgin because of its unique wildlife," Skrukrud says. "It contains an Illinois nature preserve, the highest protection granted by the state. It really is a beautiful place." Below, a view of Trout Park.


View more photos of the Aurora and Elgin cleanups, and learn how you can get involved with a Water Sentinels project near you.


Photos by John Shattuck and Nate Stelton.


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