A new community group is hoping to encourage the use and protection of the Willow River.
The idea for the "Friends of the Willow River" was kicked around about a year ago among a handful of river lovers.
Mike Kelly, chairman of the Friends group, and member Mike Reiter were two of the key figures in the groups beginnings.
"Now that we're both retired," Kelly said, "we have some time to put into this stuff."
Kelly said the Friends group, which total less than 10 members so far, hopes to accomplish several goals over the next few years.
One major project will be clearing the channel upstream and downstream in order to provide canoeing opportunities for local residents.
"We want people to be able to canoe without having to get out of the river and go around things," he said.
The group has a bit of a timeline involved in that project. The Friends of the Willow River are sponsoring a canoe race during Fun Fest this July.
Canoe races were once a part of the New Richmond community celebration, but they haven't been conducted for 30 or 40 years, Kelly said.
"We're out looking for sponsorships," he said. "All we're trying to do is break even on the race."
The race is slated to run from the boat landing at Mary Park to the bridge at main street. The group hopes to have races for four age categories.
"We want to use the race as a way to promote the use of the Willow River," Kelly said. "It's a great resource that's running right through town. But we think it's underutilized."
Those working on the race include Kelly, Reiter, Craig Jameson and Pete Kling.
Apart from canoeing, Kelly said the group hopes to work with the Upper Willow River Rehabilitation District on issues involving water quality and run-off.
"We want to understand what the river is like now and what it was like in the past," Kelly said. "We're looking at ways we can improve the river."
Reiter said high water following rains can create run-off problems in the Willow.
Reiter said the Friends want to address pollution sources to better protect the river.
"There's a lot of things we want to get started," he said.
The group also wants to protect and improve the trout population that attracts anglers to the area.
The river was once stocked by the Department of Natural Resources, but funding ended that practice. The Star Prairie Fish and Game organization has planted trout the past few years.
"We'd like to look at some habitat improvement for trout," Kelly said.
The Friends group is looking to get the word out about their efforts and find additional members. For information, call Kelly at 715-246-4109 or Reiter at 246-6643.
"Anyone who's interested in volunteering in any of these projects, we'd like to hear from them," Kelly said.