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Mission: Possible

WORTHINGTON -- Last year, members of First Covenant Church -- the youth group in particular -- spent four days, spread out over the course of the summer, cleaning up along part of the shoreline of Lake Okabena. They targeted the grade area betwee...

WORTHINGTON -- Last year, members of First Covenant Church -- the youth group in particular -- spent four days, spread out over the course of the summer, cleaning up along part of the shoreline of Lake Okabena. They targeted the grade area between the Slater Park boat ramp and Sunset Park and collected about 700 pounds of trash throughout those separate outings.

On Sunday, those faithful youths will head out once again, armed with gloves and trash bags, but this time their ranks will be bolstered by some additional manpower. Joining the effort will be youths from several other churches in town, members of the Lake Okabena Improvement Association (LOIA) and any other local residents who want to lend a hand.

In addition, the Worthington Historic District Association (WHDA) will canvas for trash in the city center neighborhoods and parks, and the Community Improvement Committee of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce is encouraging local business owners to spruce up their properties at the same time.

"Our goal is to hit all the public areas along the lake this time and feed off what First Covenant has already done," explained Genny Turner, LOIA president.

"Our group understood there's no way we could cover the whole lake," added John Stewart, pastor of First Covenant, about his church's initial effort, dubbed "Tending the Garden," a reference to a passage from Genesis. "One of the encouraging things last year was that each time we did it, we had one or two people come up and say they were glad somebody was doing it and thank us."

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Youth groups from American Reformed, First Lutheran, First United Methodist and American Lutheran churches have committed to help on Sunday, and Stewart expects a few more may join the effort. There was some discussion about the appropriateness of scheduling the event on a Sunday -- "a day of rest"-- but due to scheduling difficulties, it seemed like the day when the turnout was apt to be best.

"We just really needed to pick a day in the spring, and it seems like there's so much going on," Turner said. "We also wanted to get it done before the Windsurfing Regatta in June, especially with the National Championships this year."

The Lake Okabena Cleanup Mission will get under way at 2 p.m. Sunday, with volunteers meeting at Centennial Park in the parking lot near the beach. At that time, groups will be assigned to canvas public areas around the lake. Prime areas of concern include all the parks, the grade fishing area and the Whiskey Ditch inlet into the lake. If there are enough volunteers, the Sunset Bay area might also be tackled.

"At this time, we're focusing on the public areas, although we have had some older members of the lake association call and ask if we would do their property," Turner explained. "I'd like to see property owners along the lake take that time to walk out and do their own property, too. We want to eliminate as much trash as possible."

First Covenant worked last year with the Adopt-a-River program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which provided trash bags and gloves for the volunteers. Those resources are available again, but volunteers are also asked to bring their own gloves and even waders, if possible.

"The City of Worthington has been very good working with us at the lake association, and they are providing a couple of people to come around and collect the garbage bags on Sunday," Turner said. "We're going to be sorting out the driftwood and the recyclables, and they will be circling around where we're at and picking them up."

Both Turner and Stewart emphasized that the cleanup effort is intended to enhance what city personnel already do in the public areas. Most recently, LOIA has been working with the city to provide more trash receptacles at points all around the lake.

"This is everybody's concern," said Turner about the concerted effort to spruce up the town. "It's more than one entity can do."

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At about 4 p.m., volunteers who help with the effort will be invited to a time of fellowship, with a light supper served. Details will be provided on Sunday.

The WHDA has conducted a similar cleanup effort of central Worthington neighborhoods for several years. That group will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of Memorial Auditorium and divide up to canvas the surrounding area for trash.

"This is a chance for us to get at the debris and garbage before it can even reach Lake Okabena, so it really goes hand-in-hand with lake association's work," said Lori Grafing, a WHDA board member. "The more we can keep from entering the lake in the first place, the better off we will all be."

Organizers hope to make the lake cleanup an ongoing effort for all the entities and Worthington's citizenry in general.

"We're not interested in this being just a one-year thing," Turner emphasized. "With First Covenant doing it four times last year, it shows there's a real need to do this on a regular basis."

Volunteers are welcome to join either the shoreline cleanup or WHDA efforts. For more information on the Lake Okabena Cleanup Mission, contact Turner, 372-7018, or First Covenant Church, 376-5109. LOIA will have its annual meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the American Legion, 1906 Oxford St. Anyone interested in lake improvement issues may attend.

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