A little community spirit went a long way as more than 100 volunteers teamed up Friday and Saturday to clean up dozens of vacant residential lots and a section of river bank that have been overgrown with weeds and other debris since the Souris River flood in 2011.
Tessa Sandstrom of the North Dakota Petroleum Council helped organize the Minot River Valley Cleanup, which took place all over Minot Friday and Saturday. She said that on Friday around 75 volunteers showed up, while on Saturday about 30 came. Between those two days, the volunteers were able to mow, trim and clean up debris from 80 or 90 of the 150 residential lots the City of Minot owns and needed help maintaining.
"Most of the heavy weeds were cut down (by the City) so it was just trimming around trees, carrying any large stones or tree branches off, putting them by the curb," Sandstrom said. "Today (Saturday) we got done with all those lots so we have WCE Oil Field Services here (with) a skid-steer (mower), so we're just going to try and trim some of the banks along the river."
Tessa Sandstrom of the North Dakota Petroleum Council throws some weeds into a Dumpster at Oak Park Saturday afternoon. Sandstrom helped organize the Minot River Valley Cleanup, which cleared dozens of city-owned residential lots of weeds and other debris on Friday and Saturday.
There were quite a few local companies that helped out with the cleanup. Sandstrom said a few other companies that sent employees out included Town and Country Credit Union, Ackerman-Estvold, Souris Basin Planning Council, Integrity Viking Funds, AE2S and Cognizant Technology Solutions. The American Red Cross provided sandwiches and water and the Minot Commission on Aging also gave water.
Sandstrom said they had a tremendous turnout, and a lot was accomplished considering only about 1/3 of the volunteers were able to bring weed trimmers. In fact, things went so well the volunteers were itching to do more lots but couldn't because they were private property.
"I know a lot of the volunteers were a little disappointed that we couldn't go into some of those abandoned lots that have really high weeds, but since they're private property we weren't able to go in," Sandstrom said. "We're just kind of hoping that this helps raise a little bit of awareness that there are volunteers that are willing to help any private owners that just haven't had the time or resources to go in and clean them up."
Any private owners who need help maintaining their flood-affected lots in Minot can call Sandstrom at 557-7744 or Katie Haarsager of Enbridge at 857-0849 to arrange for some volunteers to help out. Private lot owners can also go to the website (northdakotaoilcan.com/events) and click the "Contact Us" link on the left to ask for help.
Among the volunteers were 30 students from the Quentin N. Burdick Job Corps Center and around a dozen airmen from Minot Air Force Base. Sandstrom said there were also many people who just showed up and wanted to help after reading about the effort in The Minot Daily News earlier that week.
With all that help, she said they were able to get a lot done. Much still remains, however, and this was only the beginning.
"(We accomplished) as much as we could in two days," Sandstrom said. "There's still a lot to do, so this is mostly just a way to kind of kick off the events and we hope to do a little bit more from here."
Paul Phillips of Summers Manufacturing Co. and Steve Pinnow of Ameriprise Financial were two of the walk-ups who read about the cleanup and showed up Saturday morning to put in a full day of work.
They said the reason they decided to take part in the cleanup was pretty simple.
"I love this city, and I'm part of this city," Pinnow said. "There's a lot to be done here, a lot that needs to be done."
"Community support," added Phillips. "It's good to be proud of where you live."
Both men showed up at the headquarters in the Arrowhead Shopping Center parking lot at 9 a.m. and immediately went to work weed trimming and mowing. They both spent over three hours trimming and mowing two large lots along Fourth Avenue Southwest and said while there was a lot of work to do, the old adage "many hands make light work" is indeed true.
"There's a lot of tall, overgrown stuff, but when a bunch of people help it goes really quick," Phillips said. "It's kind of amazing how fast it goes."
"We were both working on the lot and all of a sudden six, seven Air Force people showed up. They didn't have any equipment to use so they went through and took all the big sticks out so we didn't have to worry about doing that," Pinnow said. "They got all the big twigs and stuff and boy they were helpful."
Haarsager, who helped Sandstrom organize the cleanup, said the response from outside the energy industry was a big help in getting all that work done.
"We couldn't be more thankful for all those people who just decided to walk up and help," Haarsager said. "They really made a big difference in all of this."
She said Phillips and Pinnow in particular were incredibly helpful in getting much of the work done on Saturday.
While the residential lots were originally all that was on the agenda, Haarsager said after driving by the levee at the Fourth Avenue Northwest bridge near Oak Park so many times and seeing the river bank completely overgrown with weeds, they made it their mission to get some heavy equipment in there to cut the vegetation down to size.
One heavy-duty skid-steer mower courtesy of WCE Oil Field Services later, that's exactly what they did. Haarsager said it was a great feeling to get all those weeds cut down and actually see the Souris River again.
"Before the flood the river was such a fun place to come with your families and friends and just hang out. After the flood it put a bad taste in everyone's mouth and it scared everyone," Haarsager said. "I feel like now it looks clean and it looks nice. It looks like the river it used to be."
Haarsager said being able to help the Minot community like this is very rewarding. She noted how nice it is to be able to walk or bike or take a family stroll and see all those previously overgrown areas look clean and neat.
"It's nice to start to kind of uncover some of those weeds and think about what Minot could become after all of this. As you start to actually come out and do the work and pull the weeds, you start to think about all of those great things that Minot could kind of come back to," Haarsager said. "That's what really gives you all the feel-good moments of coming out and doing something like this."