(New Ulm, MN) – New Ulm has a reputation as a clean and neat city, but that doesn’t come without extensive help from one of its residents.
Lori Wengert has been cleaning up the rivers and parks in the area for years. In 2010, the New Ulm native organized a river cleanup for her River Ranger Youth Program. The group adopted sections of the Cottonwood and Minnesota rivers to clean up in fall and spring. The adoption program lasted five years, but Wengert didn’t stop.
“It’s in my blood now, my passion,” She said.
Part of Wengert’s passion likely comes from her father, local naturalist Ron Bolduan. Bolduan, Wengert, and her husband, Chad, run the Riverside Environmental Center, which is based in an historic schoolhouse at Riverside Park. There on display are Bolduan’s treasures from his many years exploring the Minnesota River.
“I share my Dad’s passion for all wildlife, but I also have a true passion to get out and clean up as much litter as I can to keep our woods and rivers clean,” Wengert said. “Not only does it look better, but any litter that gets into a street or parking lot drain goes directly into the river untreated.”
When COVID-19 hit, and Wengert wasn’t able to organize a large group for cleanup due to social distancing guidelines, she saw another opportunity. It was three weeks prior to Earth Day – her favorite day of the year – when Wengert got on social media to ask the pubic to pick up litter during their walks and outdoor time. “I figured, what better time than now to get everyone to come together to work for a cause? Many people are bored and looking for something to do.” The response, she says, has been amazing.
Her cleanup left her with one problem. Landfills are closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wengert and her husband had collected two trailers full of litter along the Minnesota River and three bridges. They didn’t know how they would dispose of the trash, or how they could continue to clean up with their trailers full.
That’s when Riverview Sanitation (RVS) stepped up. One of the employees mentioned Wengert’s conundrum to the owners. On Tuesday, RVS sent the employee and his partner to Wengert’s home to unload the trailers at no cost.
Wengert had to take a couple days off cleanup after a branch scratched her cornea while she was picking up litter near a bridge. But she says there has been an outpouring of support from volunteers who are cleaning up in her absence.
She’ll be out again, though. The Wengerts have a cleanup regiment for each season.
If people want to join in her efforts, she says the best way to start is to keep litter and fall leaves from going down street drains.
Earth Day, which was established in 1970, is every year on April 22. It was started to show support for environmental protection.