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April 8, 2013

Third annual Operation Wabashiki a success

TERRE HAUTE — Dozens of old tires, a mattress, metal debris and hundreds of drink containers no longer clutter the wetlands of the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area.

Thanks to the third annual effort of the Sustainability Club at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on Sunday, Operation Wabashiki has cleaned up illegal dumping sites as well as carelessly tossed trash to restore the natural beauty of the state’s newest protected wetlands.

“We hauled a [flat-bed] trailer full of trash, had a truck full of tires,” said club member Emma Kelley. The group picked up a television, about 50 tires, and filled the bed of a pickup five times with bags that were sorted into recycling and trash containers provided by Indiana State University.

Among those gathering at Dewey Point on the eastern edge of West Terre Haute were South Vigo High School student Nathan Pugh, along with environmental sciences teacher Ashley Cassell.

“I offered extra credit for any student who showed up,” Cassell said, “and Nathan is the only one so far, and he doesn’t need extra credit.”

It is the second year for Cassell’s environmental sciences class, she said, and the first year for the class’s involvement in the cleanup of Wabashiki.

“I want to bring a class out here to Wabashiki, so I want to see what’s out here,” she explained.

Soon after, Cassell and Pugh were on the outskirts of the riverside community of Dresser — in a ravine,  helping to remove garbage from an area that had long been an illegal dump site.

“This is clearly a waterway, and there’s tires and chairs down here,” said volunteer Jane Santucci as she and others formed a chain relay to drag tires out of the ravine, through the brush, to a collection site near the road.

Rusty paint containers, a broken lawn chair, sign posts and plenty of old tires quickly piled up to be removed.

Sustainability Club adviser Robert Jean, an assistant professor of ecology at SMWC, said the club members look forward to Operation Wabashiki each spring.

“Every year, we find a little bit less trash in the areas where we’ve been, but we expand our area, too,” he explained, referring to the Dresser location. “Every time we expand, we find tires and couches.”

The Wabashiki FWA is composed of 2,600 acres of floodplain along the Wabash River.

“Wabashiki is a special project for us,” Jean said, “just because of what Wabashiki does for us — cleaning the water, flood control, and all of the wildlife.”

The group began the cleanup at 9 a.m. by distributing collection bags, boxes for broken glass, gloves for safety and instructions on the cleanup sites off Sixth Street, at Dresser, and along the U.S. 40 guardrail.

By 1 p.m., the cleanup was winding down and the items were sorted at Dewey Point.

Representatives of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources helped direct some of the cleanup and haul away some of the trash.

“I think we got considerably more than last year,” said Amber Slaughterbeck, a senior at SMWC on track to graduate in December.

And the club was also thankful that the weather cooperated with a sunny day and warm temperatures.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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