Adopt a River History


In light of the pandemic and the transition to Freshwater, we will not be hosting the larger events, and supplies will not be sent out for cleanups. We still encourage you to register to participate in the program if interested, and to report the results of your cleanups online. If you have questions, please contact our Program Coordinator, Alex Van Loh.

In the meantime, we hope you still feel empowered to clean up your neighborhood, community spaces, and waterways. Always practice social distancing and make safety your priority.

Program History

Similar to how Freshwater was founded in 1968 in response to a need to do something about local water quality issues, the Adopt a River program evolved out of the environmental concerns of the mid-1980s. The program was created to empower Minnesotans as stewards and ambassadors of the state’s public waters. Managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources until 2016, the program focused on engaging people in community-led and organized clean-up events, coordination for annual events like the Mississippi Riverboat Cleanup, and found objects (“trash”) sculptures displayed at the Minnesota State Fair and around the metro area. Since 1989, Adopt a River has supported over 3,200 cleanups that have engaged over 90,000 volunteers in 300,000 hours of service to watershed areas throughout the state. These efforts have collectively resulted in over 6.5 million pounds of trash removed from 11,000 miles of shoreline along rivers, lakes, streams, and other natural areas.

In 2016, ownership of the program transitioned to Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa. Since then, through the Adopt a River program, Conservation Corps has engaged over 2,700 volunteers in 112 adoptions, resulting in 46,807 pounds of trash removed from Minnesota watershed areas. The organization also hosted 11 of their own events, engaging an additional 1,111 volunteers and resulting in 13,100 pounds of trash removed. However, changes in the strategic framework at Conservation Corps meant that the Adopt a River program wasn’t quite the right fit with the organization’s priority focus on empowering youth. Conservation Corps actively engaged community partners to find a place where the legacy of decades of volunteering could be built on and the program could continue to thrive. That search for a new home was successful!

At Freshwater, we are thrilled to include Adopt a River in our suite of programs that emphasize community leadership for clean water. Being able to continue build on Adopt a River’s 30+ year history isn’t just something that we’re excited about—it is deeply connected to our history and our mission. We’re looking forward to the program being a part of our future.

2020 will be dedicated to transitioning the program from Conservation Corps to Freshwater, and we anticipate rolling out new program features in 2021. In light of the pandemic and this transition, we will not be hosting the larger events, but people are encouraged to still sign up to be a part of the program if interested, and to report the results of their cleanups online. If you have questions, please contact our Program Coordinator, Alex Van Loh.

We want to express deep gratitude to Conservation Corps for actively seeking for a new home for this long-lived and well-loved program. We look forward to stewarding the program and building on its legacy.