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The devastation caused by the 2011 flood in Minot extended beyond damaging 4,000 homes; it also eroded the relationship between local residents and the Souris River.
Long ago the Souris River was an integral part of city life. The river provided both a source of entertainment and transportation. Today, concerns regarding flood control have contributed to our community’s negative perception of the Souris. The vibrant river culture of the past is in need of restoration, and a community organization called Friends of the Souris River (FSR) is contributing to the revitalization effort.
At present there are few portions of the Souris River that resemble the historic natural river. This is due to a design completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s. To allow for better flood protection after the 1969 flood, and to transport water faster through Minot, much of the river channel was straightened and widened. In the process, several meanders of the Souris River were intentionally cut off from the main river channel in order to serve as a stormwater storage area. In the absence of free flowing water through the meanders (or “dead loops” as they are more commonly known), algae bloomed and duckweed grew. The stagnant water in the dead loops has made them susceptible to the accumulation of sediment deposit and trash.
FSR member and Minot native Josh Wolsky is fully aware of why many residents view the river unfavorably.
“We see it only as a burden, as a risk. But in most other places in the world, rivers and waters are community assets. There are benefits that come with living with the risk. I got involved with Friends of the Souris because I'd like to see us recapture some of those lost benefits,” Wolsky said.
Removing blight from the Souris River will help recapture the value of waterfront living and to take ownership of our river. To achieve this end, last year FSR collaborated with the Resilience AmeriCorps VISTAs to arrange four river clean-ups. In total, more than 200 citizen volunteers collected more than 14 tons of trash and debris from the river.
“We've focused on river clean-ups in our early going because of what they demonstrate,” said Wolsky, “When we clean up an area, we reveal the natural beauty and potential. When we organize a group of volunteers and accomplish a goal, we demonstrate what's possible when people work together and we send loud messages up the political ladders. These events are the first small steps towards our larger goals of making the Souris River an asset to the Minot area.”
FSR resumed its clean-ups earlier this year in May. Starting at the historic Eastwood Park Bridge, more than 20 volunteers braved steep river banks and murky water to clear trash out of one of Minot’s dead loops.
Monica Peterson, a clean-up volunteer, described her vision for the city’s river future.
“The river should be a place where people can hang out and enjoy, rather than avoid. Since I live in Eastwood Park, which is surrounded by the river, its cleanliness and appearance is important to me,” Peterson said.
The May river clean-up resulted in 1,500 pounds of waste being collected within three hours. The larger debris pulled from the river included patio chairs, a wagon, and a mailbox. While it is unclear how long this trash has sat discarded in the river, likely some since the flood in 2011, what is evident is the need for more clean-ups in the near future. Community members like Devin Kampman are aware of the role they play to keep the river clean.
“It was important to volunteer for this because we all share this planet and I believe that we can all benefit from a cleaner, less polluted earth,” Kampman said, “Besides, it just looks much better when there isn't trash and refuse strewn about.”
Future river clean-ups are being planned for Sept. 19 and Oct. 7. Visit friendsofthesouris.com to learn more.