About the Adopt-a-River Program

The Adopt-a-River program was originally 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.

In 2016, ownership of the program transitioned to Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, a long time partner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


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.

Adopt-A-River Trash Sculptures
              Geocaching Quiz
Peanut the Turtle

The volunteers

Since 1989, about 3,200 cleanups were completed by about 90,000 volunteers statewide. They have removed 6.5 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 and Conservation Corps' website, Google searches, social media and word of mouth. The kinds of participants vary widely, from waterfront owners to recreationists, corporate clubs, community organizations or just individuals.