Do-good adventurers Paul Twedt and Michael Anderson are in the middle of a dirty mission: to remove as much trash as they can while paddling 1,200 miles of Minnesota rivers.

Paul Twedt and Michael Anderson

Paul Twedt, left, and Michael Anderson are on a mission to clean up Minnesota one float trip at a time. Photo: Courtesy of Jake Armour

So far they’ve paddled 500 miles and picked up 5,000 pounds of rubbish, ranging from a bowling ball to a 100-pound semi-truck tire. Recently they’d found a push fertilizer spreader, an old snow thrower and a car axle.

They knew the rivers were dirty, but not this dirty.

Some of the trash the duo must stash in their canoes. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Anderson

“We expected Styrofoam, but what we’ve found has been more historic trash sites,” Anderson told GrindTV. “We heard stories of people putting trucks out on the river ice and waiting for it to melt.”

Tagging their effort the Three Rivers Project, the duo started earlier this summer, paddling and camping along the Namekagon/St. Croix, where they cleaned up 736 pounds of litter in 15 days. Pushing 12-hour days, they just wrapped up 275 miles on the Minnesota River, where they extracted over 4,000 pounds of junk.

camping on the river

Camping along the river, and sometimes on sandbars, is standard practice. Photo: Courtesy of Grant Armour

After a break, a third leg will conclude the journey this fall, when the two will tackle the first 600 miles of the Mississippi River where it starts in Minnesota.

Twedt and Anderson are not newbies to the outdoor world; they’re both Granite Gear–sponsored adventurers and founded the Adventure Stewardship Alliance.

sunset on the river

Two rivers down, one to go. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Twedt

The organization encourages people to act as stewards of public waterways, inspiring a deeper sense of connection to and care for natural environments and public waterways.

They stepped up this summer to show people how.

riverside scenic shot

The paddlers’ river stewardship project is meant to inspire others to find their own passion project. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Twedt

The St. Croix, a vast wilderness protected as a National Scenic Riverway, has water so clear that you can see sturgeon right under your paddle. The Minnesota River is heavily damaged by industry, housing and humans.

But even through this muddy, slow-moving water, in the midst of 100-degree heat and dripping humidity, Twedt sees value.

Long days in summertime humidity have added an extra challenge to the Three Rivers Project. Photo: Courtesy of Grant Amour

“This entire river is a recreational gem that has gone completely unnoticed and been kind of forgotten,” he says. “It’s just a jungle out here. You don’t see anybody but a few fishermen.”

Under the awnings of cottonwood and maple, Twedt and Anderson haul in trash, stash it like a giant Jenga game in their handcrafted canoes, then hoist it ashore at the nearest boat launch, portage or town. Some friendly volunteers come out to help, but often the pair hauls a load to shore, buys a trinket at a local business and asks to borrow the Dumpster.

“We’ve never been turned down. But we spark a lot of conversation,” Twedt says. “People say, ‘Those are beautiful boats, but what is in them?!'”

The twosome took on litter, but they want others to uncover their own ways to leave a “positive trace.” Photo: Courtesy of Paul Twedt

Litter on the river is just one problem that was easy to solve. Twedt and Anderson want others to find their own passions and take action.

“You are a human and you are going to have an impact,” Twedt says. “But our mantra is leave a ‘positive trace.’ Do it in your own way — eliminate traces of racism in your workplace, carry groceries across the street for someone, take responsibility for how you manage your yard.”

Following the Three Rivers Project, the tireless twosome plans to dive into Stewardship 365, a project that will share one story for each day of the year from ambassadors cleaning areas for which they care deeply.

Anderson on the Minnesota River

Anderson takes a moment on the banks of the Minnesota River. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Twedt

“We’re all about the positive, the grassroots and the local,” Anderson says. “Just go out and do it.”

Follow their trip progress here.

Read more stories about saving our environment

How to write your way to a sustainable full-ride scholarship

3 simple things you can do to make a positive impact on the planet

Artist using satellite imagery to change the world from above