News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 16, 2012

St. Mary-of-the-Woods College group leads Wabashiki cleanup

TERRE HAUTE — Several mattresses and couches, tires, some meth lab trash, and a bunch of bottles, cups and food wrappers are no longer ingredients in a recipe for pollution at the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area.

More than 30 volunteers showed up Sunday to collect garbage and recyclables as part of an environmental cleanup hosted by the Sustainability Club at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Starting about 10 a.m., they fanned out in three directions to cover the levy protecting West Terre Haute, along both sides of U.S. 40 between the town and the Wabash River, and north of the highway along the railroad tracks.

Even though it was the second year for the cleanup, the group found plenty of stuff to haul back to the collection site at Duey Point along U.S.40.

“Every time it floods, more trash comes up,” said Robert Jean, assistant professor of ecology at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, while standing next to a trash bin donated by waste services company Republic Services. “But, we are having to walk farther to get to the trash each time.”

The goal of the Sustainability Club is to create environmental awareness and understanding of sustainability issues. At Wabashiki, many endangered species inhabit the wetlands. The responsibility for keeping the wetlands clean falls to the public, and to groups like the Sustainability Club.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand how important this watershed is,” Jean said, listing wildlife, water purification and flood control. Since the area is now part of a state fish and wildlife area, it also has economic implications such as tourism and bird watching.

The wetlands is a great stopping point for migratory birds, he said. But the pollution is a hazard. The plastics can get wrapped around a bird’s neck or body. And the plastics contain forms of estrogens, which is released into the environment as the plastic breaks down. Chemicals released into the environment affect all wildlife.

“None of these things are good for them,” Woods student Jessie Uchytil said of the garbage. “As the plastic breaks down into small pieces, the birds will use it to build their nests, and they eat it, too, and that can kill them.”

Uchytil, who serves as treasurer of the Sustainability Club, said the group conducts cleanup efforts around the Terre Haute area and tries to partner with other organizations and events.

As the event was winding down Sunday afternoon, some blustery weather was moving in. The group avoided rain during the cleanup, but the strong winds did prevent the use of a kayak to get into the waterways to pick up litter.

Jean said the cleanup will be an annual project, and keeping Wabashiki clean is worth the effort.

“The true ecological implications of all this is the real reason to be out here,” Jean said. “I’m pleased the state has set aside this property for preservation for the future.”

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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