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Two dozen students, faculty and friends of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh braved wind and rain Saturday morning, volunteering to collect trash from the shores of the Fox River adjacent to campus. Many picked the trash with gloved hands or the help of a “reach and grab” tool as part of a large-scale Fox-Wolf Watershed Cleanup Day.

Staff with the UWO Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) Lab, took the opportunity to break out a specialized piece of equipment—known as a PixieDrone—that collects floating trash and debris near shorelines. Operated remotely, a person on shore can direct the battery-run drone to any areas in need of cleanup. A grate at the front of the rectangular unit is open and accumulates the garbage.

Tyler Peskie

Student Tyler Peskie, who was collecting trash on shore, began at UWO as a business major who wanted to own his own business. He explained that he made a quick change of his major three days into the semester. He encountered professor Marcel Dijkstra in a Quest course, Intro to Sustainability.

“I’ve liked nature and I’ve always been good with math,” said Peskie, an environmental engineering technology major who is a Fond du Lac High School graduate. “I was calling my adviser three days into school.”

Peskie’s been working in the ERIC Lab since 2020, performing analysis of water samples. He worked on collecting samples of wastewater at various locations and testing them during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summer, Peskie will work with Dijkstra to research the fluctuation of phosphorus in surface water versus sediment. They’ll look closely at the suspension of phosphorus after heavy storms.

Student Jackie Behrens of Menomonee Falls, also was out collecting trash that included such items as small potato chip bags, a shoe insole, drink cups, bait tubs and soda bottles.

“I want to go into conservation, ecology or water science. I want to get experience in the field doing stuff and making a difference.”

Behrens will be working this summer as a field technician in the ERIC Lab. She will graduate in December with a biology degree and plans to continue her education in pursuit of a master’s degree.

UWO’s Kevin Crawford led the cleanup day.

UWO chemistry professor Kevin Crawford, who was site coordinator of the UWO campus cleanup operations, said about 1,700 citizens in several counties collected trash as part of the Fox-Wolf Watershed Cleanup. At the UWO site along the Fox River, 60 pounds of trash and 10 pounds of recyclables were collected in two hours.

UWO a partner in cleanup around state

Carmen Ebert, associate director of the ERIC Lab, said the PixieDrone used Saturday was funded by Meijer stores and soon will put into service in Manitowoc County. A second PixieDrone unit was acquired with funds from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It will be used in Door, Brown and Kewaunee counties for the Trash Free Waters grant, but Sturgeon Bay shorelines in Door County will be a focus.

A large trash boat is parked behind the ERIC building and is intended for use on bigger bodies of water including Lake Michigan. The marine debris mitigation project was funded under the provisions of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered by the EPA.

There’s an additional piece of equipment, a robotic beach-cleaning device known as a BeBot unit that picks up trash on sandy beaches. It too, was funded by Meijer and will be used in Manitowoc County. The Council for the Great Lakes – Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup is a partner with the Meijer-funded units.

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