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Cali Owings, Published July 14 2013

Fargo rewards Red River's improved view

FARGO – A team of 10 AmeriCorps volunteers logged six weeks of cleaning alongside the Red River last summer.

They cleared flood debris, removed dead and diseased trees and kept invasive buckthorn at bay.

The Red’s downtown neighbors took notice, said Bob Backman, executive director for the nonprofit River Keepers, which oversaw the project.

He said they received many unsolicited comments about the improved view.

Some people who live and work just a few blocks away “forgot they were next to the river,” Backman said.

The success of the program prompted city officials to award $10,000 to River Keepers in January to pay for two part-time workers to keep it going.

“There was so much interest and so much enthusiasm to carry on this work,” said Scott Liudahl of the Fargo Forestry Department.

The city of Fargo, the Fargo Parks District and the River Keepers all have a hand in maintaining river cleanup efforts. Backman and Liudahl said stakeholders will meet later this summer to discuss future funding for the program.

Two-man team

In the meantime, their two-man clean team has a never-ending to-do list in just the downtown Fargo-Moorhead zone near the Red River.

Mike Slotten, one half of the “Red River Clean Team,” can do a little bit of everything. The North Dakota State University natural resources management grad is certified to apply commercial pesticides, can wield a chainsaw and has experience with forestry, arbor care and ecology.

He and Thomas French, the other half of the team, spend a few days a week on the banks of the Red removing trees and brush, planting, spraying for invasive species and keeping the walking and bike trails clear of hazardous branches and garbage.

“I didn’t know there was such a beautiful bike path in Fargo,” French said.

The NDSU natural resources management senior said the best part about working near the Red is the relationships they’ve built with people they see on the trails and on the banks every day.

Big changes

In addition to their cleanup work, the pair try to diversify species in the forest alongside the river as the elm and ash trees age. With some donations from the Cass County Soil Conservation District and labor from volunteers, they planted dogwood, false indigo and sandbar willow – species that can stabilize banks and prevent erosion.

They’re also still picking up debris from late June flooding.

“Stairways, decks … if you can dream it, we can find it,” Slotten said.

Even with just a crew of two cleaning up alongside the Red, compared to last year’s 10 workers, Backman said they’ve seen a big improvement.

They’ve noticed more people fishing across from City Hall – a great spot for walleye – and steady traffic along the trails.

Backman hopes the changes will make people feel safer along the river and appreciate its beauty more.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599