Making a Difference: Magnet fishing helping to clean up Rock River

Putting a twist on everyday angling, magnet fishing groups are aiding with land and water conservation.
Published: Aug. 16, 2020 at 9:25 AM CDT
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The Attraction of Trash to Treasure

On any given weekend, you might find Troy Hartman launching ropes into the Rock River. He’s recently picked up the hobby of magnet fishing.

“That’s why I love it, it’s not easy,” said Hartman. “But you always get something good.”

Magnet fishing uses a high-powered magnet attached to a tough rope to attract metal objects buried in area waterways.

“You hope to pull out a treasure,” said Hartman. “Something with history is what I’m looking for. Something that I can look at and say that was a piece of Fort Atkinson.

Since he’s started, Hartman has found a dozen bicycles, railroad spikes, and a shopping cart.

“Everything you can imagine, it’s in there,” he said. “You’ve just got to look for it.”

In the past four months, Hartman has gained quite a following. He’s created the Jefferson County Magnet Fishing Facebook group where members can share their finds and favorite spots with one another.

“It is a sense of community I guess,” said Hartman. “I’m glad to see it because every person out here magnet fishing means it’s a little bit cleaner the river is going to be.”

Jefferson County Conservation Efforts

The removal of the metal objects is having a positive impact on the water quality in area lakes and rivers.

The Rock River Coalition works to monitor the water’s basin and ensure it remains safe to enjoy. The organization’s president, Eric Compas, says the river is reaping the rewards of magnet fishing.

“Given what they’re finding, I think it’s substantial,” said Compas. “There’s a lot in there that we can’t see and to have another way to get that out of the river is a great thing.”

He says the ingenuity of the recreational activity is cleaning up in spots that are hard to access for most volunteers.

“I’ve been really surprised at how much material they are pulling out,” said Compas. “It’s a novel and creative way of cleaning up the river and it really supplements those other things that we would do for river clean ups.”

The Jefferson County Land and Water Conservation Department works closely with members of the public to provide educational resources.

“The waters, the rivers, the streams, the lakes are all the people’s waters,” said Patricia Cicero. “This is your backyard, this is everyone’s water in Wisconsin.”

Cicero says groups like this can inspire others to find ways to clean up the land and water.

“I think when you get involved with a group like that, you’re going to have fun,” said Cicero. “But you can walk away knowing that you accomplished something.”

Making a Difference

In the past few months, Hartman says he’s actually started having difficulty finding objects in spots that were once flooded with materials. He says that’s a great problem to have.

“We’re still finding some stuff but not as much and actually, as disappointed as I am to not get something, I’m so thrilled that it’s getting clean,” said Hartman.

Hartman says he plans to keep up with magnet fishing and encourages others to test the waters.

“If we can get a ton of people doing it, who knows what will happen?” said Hartman. “It’s a wonderful feeling that I’m making a difference and my group is making a difference in people’s lives.”

He says anyone that wants to try it out the hobby should remember to dispose of any ‘finds’ in the proper trash or recycling.

“There’s no point pulling it out of the water if you’re just going to leave it out,” said Hartman. “It’s about cleaning up and it’s not about making it worse for anyone else.”

To learn more about volunteering with the Rock River Coalition as a stream monitor, click HERE.

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