Government

Marion family names creek, cleans it of hundreds of pounds of garbage

The Soenen family picks up trash in a creek they want to name Willowood Creek, as seen from the 41st Street bridge in Ma
The Soenen family picks up trash in a creek they want to name Willowood Creek, as seen from the 41st Street bridge in Marion on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The family began picking up trash in the creek while home due to school closures, and after realizing it was unnamed, petitioned to have it named after the nearby city park. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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MARION — When Brian Soenen and his three children were picking up trash at a creek near their house, they started asking themselves, “Why doesn’t this creek have a name?”

The family has cleaned hundreds of pounds of garbage along the creek, which leads to discussions about how if they didn’t pick up the trash, it could be flushed down into Squaw Creek and then into Indian Creek, the Cedar River, the Mississippi River and beyond.

If cleaning one creek is that important, it ought to have a name, they decided.

“Hopefully, people will realize that this creek belongs in this neighborhood, and they will start caring for it more often,” Toby Soenen, 10, wrote to the Marion City Council, asking for their support for naming the creek Willowood after the neighborhood and Willowood Park.

The family submitted an application to name the creek to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Marion City Council at its Thursday meeting supported the effort.

“I think the name is certainly appropriate,” council member Steve Jensen said. “This is a family that took the initiative, and I think it’s got the opportunity to provide more enhancement for a creek that joins a lot of houses along that route — a neat idea sparked by these kids here.”

The family and city are now waiting for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to approve the name, a process that could take a few months.

Toby Soenen, a student at Wilkins Elementary, and Owen Soenen, 13, a student at Excelsior Middle School, started cleaning up the creek in early April as part of their Boy Scout conservation service hours requirement. Since then, the whole family has been picking up bottles, plastic bags and cigarette butts they find along the creek.

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The first day they spent cleaning up the creek, a neighbor who said she’d lived in the neighborhood 25 years told them she’d never seen anyone clean it up, Brian said.

“Any time we can get out and lead by example and do something simple like pick up garbage, it’s an easy way to leave a mark,” Brian Soenen said.

He also has been teaching his children about the fish, frogs and bugs that live in and near the creek. Now that schools are closed because of the coronavirus and his children are home schooling, it’s a great opportunity to get firsthand science experience, he said.

Owen, for example, is learning how storm drains empty into the creek.

“Whenever anyone throws a McDonald’s cup on the road, the next rainy or windy day, it’s going to get blown into a waterway and eventually goes into the stream,” he said.

Since picking up garbage in the stream, Toby said he is trying to use less single-use plastic like water bottles and straws, and he hopes to influence other people in the neighborhood to do the same.

Toby said he is learning about how something as small as a cigarette butt can do a lot of polluting, too.

“We like playing in that creek a lot,” he said. “Knowing it could be polluted because of this stuff kind of worries me. I’m just trying to help clean it up and reduce our own junk.

“It’s going to make the world a better place.”

Mabel Soenen, 7, also a student at Wilkins Elementary, said she hates finding plastic bags the most.

Soenen said the cleanup crew often finds disintegrating plastic bags filled with silt.

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“You can see why people want to ban plastic bags,” he said. “I think anyone who’s opposed (to banning plastic) should go to a stream cleanup.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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