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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Area Conservation Corps Team Up To Cleanup

Finding ways to connect and collaborate during the coronavirus pandemic is challenging. Organizers of a recent environmental cleanup think they might have come up with a way to combine getting good work done with giving people a chance to connect.

Two conservation corps – Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps and Cream City Conservation Corps –gathered to work together for the first time. Together, 17 individuals cleaned up a portion of Cedar Creek in rural Ozaukee County. Decades’ worth of fallen trees, branches and debris were choking the waterway— preventing fish from passing and paddlers from paddling.

Credit Susan Bence
Jacob Sanchez with Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps organizes gear.

Chris Litzau, director of the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps, was determined to make the cleanup run as smoothly and safely as possible.

"As you come down here it’s pretty straightforward, but then you’re going to come into a couple of tripping hazards and you’re need to come over the tree,” Litzau told the group of 18 to 22 year olds.

Before they arrived, Litzau deftly made his way down the steep slope, spraying the best path with white landscape paint to avoid trips or twisted ankles.

“The water depth might be up to 24 inches in the center so you just want to be careful,” Litzau cautioned.

Waders, gloves, some safety goggles and plenty of bug repellent and sun screen where sprayed and pulled on.

The wader wearers floated and then carried large logs, many water-logged, to the other side of the creek. Smaller branches were handed off from person to person up the bluff and piled high inland, where they wouldn’t find their way back into the stream.

Credit Susan Bence / WUWM
Crews work on cleaning up Cedar Creek.

Megan Hart is a member of the Cream City corps. Cream City provides hands on green job experience for 16 to 24 year olds.

Hart hoped to get into the water. The UW-Madison freshman said she spent most of the summer working on projects in the city.

“We’ve done a lot of weeding in bioswales and stuff like that; managing green infrastructure in different places around Milwaukee." Hart added, “But just being able to work this summer has been a good experience."

Credit Susan Bence
Operating and services a chainsaw is just one of the skills Great Lakes CCC member Keonte Edwards has mastered over the years.

Keonte Edwards is a seasoned member of the Great Lakes corps. That organization combines education with training and certifications, taking on efforts like community redevelopment projects to solar panel installations.

Now an assistant crew leader, Edwards headed into the stream, chainsaw in hand.

“I learned it as one of my courses through the corps. Really, it's the sense of  a good hard day’s work and at the same time, I can notice the changes that I'm making. So, once I go back to these areas I can be like, 'I did that. I helped create this, I helped make this look beautiful.' ” Edwards adds, “So it's always a good feeling."

Chris Litzau cheered the combined crew on. “Everyone is doing great so far,” he said.

Despite a job well done, it will take multiple work days for Litzau’s crew to finish this clean up. For Terry Wagner, who grew up in the house that stands above this spot on the creek, that's just a blink of an eye.


Credit Susan Bence / WUWM
Chris Litzau said the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps will return to finish the cleanup on Cedar Creek.

Wagner loves this place. “It’s gorgeous. It’s a great way to grow up. I used to walk out the backdoor and fish for northern and bass,” he said.

Wagner said his family has been trying to find a way to restore the streams’ flow “for probably 20 years already."

Organizer Chris Litzau said the Cedar Creek workday that brought two service corps groups together is a pilot he hopes to build on.

Litzau explained that there are a half dozen similar organizations doing good work in the region. Imagine the human connection and conservation, he said, they could accomplish together.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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