Montreal River cleanup photo wins national contest


Submitted Photo

ROB HANSON'S photo of conservation specialist Zach Wilson paddling a canoe full of debris on the Montreal River during one of this summer's river cleanups was voted the winner of the 2015 National River Cleanup Photo Contest.


Ironwood - A photo of one of the Montreal River cleanup events held this summer recently won the 2015 National River Cleanup Photo Contest.

The photo, taken by Rob Hanson, shows conservation specialist Zach Wilson paddling a canoe full of garbage on the river.

The photo of Wilson, who works with the Iron County Land and Water Conservation Department, received 688 votes in the contest sponsored by American Rivers - a national non-profit conservation organization. According to information on the group's website, over 1,500 votes were cast in the contest, which featured photos from cleanups around the country.

Originally from Chippewa Falls, Wis., Hanson told the Daily Globe in an email he was working as a fisheries technician with the U.S. Forest Service in the Ottawa National Forest this summer and was picking up some extra hours helping with the cleanup.

"(The cleanup) was an opportunity for us seasonal employees to work a few extra hours, funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant (Forest Service botanist) Ian Shackleford wrote," Hanson said in the email.

Hanson graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in journalism and environmental science in 2013 and pursued a career in natural resources following time working on an endangered fish project with the National Park Service in the Grand Canyon National Park.

Hanson said he formerly worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for two years before moving to Ironwood in January 2015.

Hanson said he "barely remembers" taking the photos.

"I just thought it was sort of a picturesque moment, the way Zach was riding the canoe down the lazy river," Hanson said. "At that point the canoe was so full we just had to get to a take-out point to dump some of it, so we wouldn't sink it and could continue picking other stuff up.

"I also remember thinking it would have been a much better photo had I gotten him to look over his shoulder or taken it from the front of the 'garbage barge,' but it's not always easy when you're tripping over rocks in moving water trying not to douse someone else's camera."

Hanson said not only did he not remember the photo, he wasn't aware Shackleford had entered it in the contest until it was named as one of the finalists.

"I had no idea what (Shackleford) was talking about until I saw the photo," Hanson said, regarding the contest. "Obviously I'm excited to have won the contest because it brought a lot of attention to the good work the Forest Service and Iron County Land and Water Conservation Department has done. ... At the same time, I just snapped the photo. Ian is the one who has gone through all the trouble to organize these events and promote them, so he's really the story here."

According to Shackleford, the photo was a relatively obvious choice to submit in the contest.

"Rob took many great photos that day, but everyone especially loved that one of Zach Wilson paddling his canoe full of garbage," Shackleford said in an email to the Daily Globe. "When American Rivers invited submissions to their annual photo contest, I sent it in right away."

While he wasn't part of the submission process, Hanson said he was glad to win and pleased that it seemed to inspire people.

"Even though this honor was unexpected, it has been sort of a nice 'pick-me-up' here in the dead of winter to find out we've inspired people around the country and the world to not only take care of water resources, but also to engage in restoration efforts after they've been degraded for so many years," Hanson said. "So that post on the American Rivers page had so many 'likes' and so many 'shares,' it somehow made it feel more tangible.

"Like for the first time I know for certain our work is inspiring and engaging a bunch of people and they're not just passively reading it as a headline in their news feed."

Wilson credited Shackleford for his work helping organize the cleanup, joking he couldn't be known as the face of the river cleanup, as the photo was taken from behind and captured his "better side."

"Ian is the guy to be put on the pedestal because he organized the whole stinking thing and submitted the photo," Wilson said.

Wilson said it was good that the community came together for the cleanup and worked to polish the gem that is the Montreal River.

"Unfortunately, it's a bittersweet PR piece," Wilson said, "because, the sweet part was we organized and cleaned up (the river). The bitter part is we're recognized for trash in the river too.

"But that's the story with probably a lot of rivers (across) the whole country, they were probably in worse shape in the past."

He said it was also good that people are recycling and throwing away garbage more and no longer dumping as much trash in the river.

"I think we're at a place where we can recycle and there are days where there are free trash pickup ... for big things," Wilson said.

The cleanup was his first time canoeing the Montreal and he was impressed by its beauty, which the cleanup only helps.

"It's a beautiful river, and I've never been on it before. That was my first time and it is pretty," he said, adding that the cleanup showed how powerful the community was when it comes together with a purpose.

The cleanup, held in August, removed 4,4640 pounds of garbage from a section of the river between Norrie Park and U.S. 2. The garbage removed included 1,440 pounds of garbage, 73 tires and 1,180 pounds of scrap metal.

Editor's Note: Rob Hanson is a former Daily Globe employee.


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