It may not be the mother of all river bank dump sites, but it’s a worthy contender.

If it’s true that a river always gives up its dead, then the 60-acre site at Belle Plaine has done a lot of giving — and will continue to do so, perhaps in perpetuity.

“It’s such a daunting project,” Belle Plaine Mayor Timothy Lies said. “We’re never going to get all the stuff out of there, but we’re going to deal with what we can.”

Recently, about a dozen members of the River Valley Off-Roaders from Mankato joined dozens of other off-road enthusiasts for a day of pulling debris from the mucky acreage.

Using skid loaders, winch trucks and elbow grease, the group filled about 15 large Dumpsters with old auto parts, countless tires and decades’ worth of generalized junk.

“I was just amazed. It was an eye-opening experience, let me tell you,” River Valley club president Bill Mcgregor said.

He said the group worked all day and thought they’d made a big dent, but later realized they’d literally and figuratively just scratched the surface.

“It’s a little bit like peeling the layers of an onion,” said Paul Nordell, who heads the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Adopt-A-River program.

And, as workers discovered when cleanup efforts began there 10 years ago, the layers keep coming.

Nordell, who calls the site “a salvage yard gone amok,” said the area began operation as a junkyard in 1970.

The business continued until 1998, when the owner shut it down after one too many bouts with flooding in the low-lying area.

But the damage had been done. Flooding over the years kept embedding junk deeper and deeper into a land parcel that had served as an unauthorized dump site since who knows when.

Mcgregor said they unearthed one large piece of metal and noticed something else buried beneath it.

Moments later they were exhuming the chassis of a Model T — with four trees growing through it.

The group also winched out a 16-foot fiberglass boat.

“It’s quite an amazing site,” Lies said.

Nordell said by the time the salvage business closed, it had become a depository for assorted trash that included perhaps 300,000 tires. That’s how such sites were used back in the day.

“The river was viewed an awful lot like people view the curb these days. Drag it to the curb, and it’s gone,” Nordell said.

In retrospect, he said, opening a salvage business in a floodplain was doubly wrongheaded.

“It certainly was not the most sound business decision, and certainly not the most environmentally sound decision.”

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