DECATUR - Dave Steele and his family made a game out of Saturday’s Sangamon River cleanup.
The group made note of every candy wrapper that they found during the hourlong cleanup, and it did not take long to make their bag of garbage look like a used vending machine.
“I think by the end of it, we had every brand of candy out there,” Steele said.
Steele was among about 65 people who took to the banks of the Sangamon River early Saturday morning as part of the the Macon County Conservation District and Decatur Audubon Society’s 35th Annual Festival of Spring and river cleanup at Rock Springs.
Among the groups that flocked to the banks of the river included families such as the Steeles, many philanthropic groups and students from Millikin University.
Dave Steele said he and his 14-year-old son, Zach, came out with garbage bags with the plan to pick up the expected straws, Styrofoam and beer bottles from every major label in the nation.
What they did not expect was to pull out a chair, large vehicle tires and a used fire extinguisher. Items like that, along with filling all their garbage bags within an hour, reinforced the message to Dave Steele that residents need to take care of what they have available in the community.
“It makes you think and really appreciate what we have here and the need to take care of it,” he said.
That’s part of the message Jeff Tish hoped Saturday’s cleanup could refresh in people’s memory.
Tish, the program service manager of the conservation district, said events such as Saturday’s provide an education while also improving the appearance of nature and removing potentially hazardous materials away from wildlife.
“We hope it exposes adults and children to what’s happening out there,” he said.
A desire to make a difference is what led Rachael Ives to the cleanup. Ives, a junior at Millikin, took part Saturday with members of her service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, to help pick up trash, which included a full-size refrigerator lying near the river.
While it was not a major impact on the wildlife in the area, Ives said afterward that it is worth the effort to try to make a difference.
“It’s better to make a small effort than no effort at all,” she said.
Others out on the river on Saturday were there for a variety of other nature-related reasons.
As his three children, ages 7 through 9, were thrilled over the number of shells and small bones they found near the river, Clint Scott said Saturday provided a nice opportunity to get the children out of the house.
“It’s a chance to get them outdoors and enjoy nature for a bit,” he said. “They had a good time.”
As Scott talked about the day, his oldest, Zach, was all too eager to show off the small squirrel skull he found earlier in the day. While it may not have been litter from people, it was definitely a highlight for him.
“We found this and bobbers,” said Zach Scott. “It was so much fun!”