MANKATO — For a tobacco-free college campus, there are a lot of cigarette butts lying around Minnesota State University.
It's something you don't notice unless you're really looking for it, said Noah Storm, until you're holding a trash bag and picking them up with gloved hands.
Storm, who isn't a student at the university but volunteered alongside friends who are, roamed the campus Saturday with a team of about 21 other volunteers to pick up trash around campus and prepare for a new three-acre, native species garden as one piece of MSU's Maverick Day of Service.
More than 70 volunteers showed up at 8:30 a.m. to go out and work at the Campus Kitchen Garden with the cleanup crew and on-campus landscaping. Afterward, students were treated to a luncheon at the Centennial Student Union.
"The grossest thing we found so far was a used tampon," said Jacqueline Tomas, a freshman who volunteered with her dorm floor mates. "We didn't pick that up, though."
The first campus cleanup event was held on Earth Day, said Erik Olson, an MSU environmental science senior and co-chair of the university's environmental committee. This year snow got in the way for the second annual, so the committee's cleaning efforts were combined with the campus-wide day of service.
"Last year we had 40 students come out, but I kind of expected less this time because of finals week coming up since the date was changed," Olson said.
Olson helped direct the team around campus where they scooped up bottles, cans, plastic bags and every kind of litter under the sun.
"There are times when I notice a piece of trash on a normal day and I can't help but go pick it up," said Alex Salazar, a senior in ecology. "But you see it, even more, when you're out here picking it all up."
Each volunteer's bag was nearly full after only an hour of work.
"We've found a lot of cans and a lot of McDonald's stuff," said Whitney Williams, who is Tomas' community advisor in her dorm. They also ran into thorns.
In the next few weeks, the Environmental Committee will help plant a bee-friend garden that they've been planning for months. The garden and cleanup is one part beautification and one part increasing the health of the campus, Olson said. Putting it together was a lot of work and coordination, he said.
"But it just needs to be done. There's all this garbage here and it's gross," Olson said.
The members of the environmental committee hope to educate more people about the environment on campus, from eliminating trash to the species of plants that help keep their surroundings beautiful.
"I could feel a lot of people giving me weird looks, like 'Why is he out there picking that up?'" Olson said. "I think there is a lot more education that needs to be done"
The new garden, a collaboration between the students and staff on the environmental committee and the campus groundskeepers, will be full of purple and gold native flowers. The flowers will attract pollinators and bees native to this part of Minnesota.
If all goes well, the environmental committee wants to apply to have Mankato named as a "Bee City" through Bee City USA, a nonprofit that promotes increasing pollinating species, said Sarah Hast, another zoology senior and member of the environmental committee.
"We actually can't bring the bees on campus because of safety issues. It is just to help native species come back to the area," Olson said.