Heard the phrase Leave No Trace? According to two Minnesotan paddlers, that's a good start, but they'd like to take things one step further by promoting a "positive trace ethic" that calls on all nature lovers to leave the environment better than they found it.

If you're not familiar, Leave No Trace is the wilderness principle that suggests we should attempt to minimize our impact on the environment when we're out enjoying nature. But according to Paul Twedt and Michael Anderson, we can all do better than that. Instead of just trying to leave the environment the same as we found it, we should try to leave it in better shape. The pair is doing just that with their project to paddle and clean up litter on Minnesota's three largest rivers.

Minnesota River Cleanup The paddling duo will travel 1,200 miles of Minnesota rivers to remove trash and leave a 'positive trace' on the environment. (Photo used with permission from Adventure Stewardship Alliance)

So far, Twedt and Anderson have pulled a bowling ball (inscribed to "Millie,") a Weber grill, the hull of a boat, car and tractor tires, and countless pounds of cans, bottles, cigarette butts and Styrofoam out of Minnesota's waterways as part of their Three Rivers Project. The paddling team recently launched the Adventure Stewardship Alliance with the mission of helping others connect with and protect our natural environment. That's why it's so important to them to not just leave nature the way they found it, but to do their part to leave a "positive trace" on their local waterways.

Twedt and Anderson have already completed their cleanup of the Namekagon/St Croix River by paddling 237 miles over 15 days and removing 736 pounds of trash from the waterway. As of this writing, they are about halfway through the Minnesota River cleanup, having paddled 139 miles and removed 1,156 pounds of trash. Twedt and Anderson hope to complete this 335-mile section of their project by July 30. After a short break, the paddling team will embark on a 24-day, 622-mile cleanup of the Mississippi River that will end in mid-October.

Three Rivers Project Twedt and Anderson have pulled some interesting things out of the river, including lots and lots of Styrofoam. (Photo: Adventure Stewardship Alliance/Facebook)

Twedt is no stranger to litter cleanup projects. He and a friend picked up more than 1,000 pounds while hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail and almost as much when hiking the 2,659 Pacific Coast Trail. Compared to those projects, picking up litter while paddling 12 hours a day in a canoe seems relatively easy.

"I'm living in luxury now," Twedt joked in an interview with the West Central Tribune. "We're turning these beautiful canoes into trash barges."

The pair are sharing their journey on Facebook and Instagram as well as on a daily log that documents miles paddled and trash collected as well as any interesting finds that pop up along the way. They're also inviting folks to join them — on the water or on land — to get these Minnesota rivers in the shape they should be in.

What do Millie's bowling ball, a Weber grill and tractor tires have in common?
Paddlers Paul Twedt and Michael Anderson started their Three Rivers Project to clean up Minnesota's three largest rivers.