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What is Adopt-a-River?

Adopt-a-River program logo.


The Adopt-a-River program is part of the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Trails.  This division specializes in connecting people to the outdoors by visiting state parks, state trails, state water trails, public water accesses and fishing piers, and a whole host of public recreational trails extending from border to border.  All these facilities and opportunities, when linked with adjacent flood plains, build the landscape into a common fabric: the watershed. As the division’s public water stewardship specialists, the Adopt-a-River program challenges you to become personally involved in basic care and appreciation of our water resources.

How it works

Adopt-a-River is looking for people to cleanup Minnesota's shoreline. The program works for everyone including; individuals, families, students, recreationists, service groups, businesses, and conservation organizations. All you need to do is find some water and register.

If a volunteer registers for a particular piece of shoreline, that person or group needs to do an annual cleanup for two years in a row. The reason for requiring a two-year commitment is to allow enough time for the volunteers to see a change as a result of their efforts. This makes the work much more rewarding.

Assistance for participants includes a free cleanup/organizing kit, bags and gloves, and other logistical support. A newsletter and related stewardship information is also available.

How-to kit

The program sends out a how-to kit to potential volunteers. The how-to kit is a capsule of the program answering all of the basic questions a volunteer might ask, such as "Why would I want to get involved?". The kit also tells how to organize a cleanup. Go to the How-to-Kit page.

More specific details in the how-to kit include:

  • how to get your cleanup group together
  • how to promote your cleanup
  • how to document your cleanup
  • how to work with landowners
  • how to keep yourself safe
  • what to do with the refuse
  • a fact sheet on the three plants to avoid during a summer cleanup (a useful thing to know!).

The kit contains a registration form for you to "adopt" a specific piece of shoreline. The program allows you to adopt many parts of a watershed, from public accesses to lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, wetlands and ravines.

The volunteers

Since 1989, about 3,200 cleanups were completed by about 90,000 volunteers statewide. They have removed 6.4 million pounds of trash from 11,000 miles of Minnesota’s public waters, utilizing 300,000 hours of effort. Volunteers hear about the program in a variety of ways, including community cleanup events, the Cleanup Review newsletter,  the DNR’s web site, Google searches and word of mouth. The kinds of participants vary widely, from waterfront owners to recreationists, corporate clubs, community organizations or just individuals.


This program evolved out of environmental concerns of the mid-1980's. Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich mobilized all appropriate state agencies for a river cleanup initiative, pioneered by Mississippi River Revival. The primary goal of the effort was to make the state's designated canoe and boat routes presentable to the public. These areas had sustained considerable abuse as dumping areas. Early players in the state river cleanup were various state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Department of Corrections, and the National Guard. By 1988, these various groups were formed into an interagency task force. Their plan was to develop a sustainable program. It took the form of the Adopt-a-River program--a program to encourage citizen cleanup of our state's surface waters.

One of the most celebrated of the early multi-agency cleanups was on Wednesday June 29, 1988 in Lilydale Regional Park, along the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Volunteers removed over 80 tons of debris on that day. It was the beginning of a major turn-around from riverside dumping.